Copyright 2009 by EC
EC's Erotic Art & Fiction - http://www.ecgraphicarts.com/
(warnings: erotic discipline, sex between adults, medical fetish, forced public nudity, rape, harsh police interrogation)
Chapter 21 - A day of reckoning
Prime Minister Vladim Dukov did not have much time to contemplate the fate of the Royal Family. His cell phone went off while he was still in the throne room talking to the Priestess. When he checked the number he realized it was a call from an agent working for the Danubian Secret Police. The agent reported that eight foreigners suddenly had checked out the historic Water View Suites, Danube City’s only 5-star hotel. They had rushed to load their suitcases and briefcases into the back of a rented van, tossing several 50 Euro notes at the bellhops before speeding off. Obviously the bellhops were happy about the overly-generous tips, but having the money thrown at them in such a manner was an insult in Danubian culture. If a person wants to give anything to another person in Danubia, the item is always handed to the recipient, never tossed. The bellhops commented about the insult to their supervisor, who happened to be a covert agent of the Secret Police.
Dukov called the Danubian Rural Patrol to see if any rural police officers had seen a van with eight passengers traveling north of Danube City. Sure enough, within a few minutes a cop at a checkpoint called back to respond that he had seen a vehicle matching the description headed north towards Danubia’s border. The main crossing was only about 50 minutes to the north if a vehicle drove along the main highway, but it was well-guarded. Dukov suspected the driver would turn off the main road, head east, and escape using one of several secondary crossings that exited through the mountains that formed the border along the country’s northernmost province. The province itself was covered with small farms, fruit orchards, and villages; all connected by a maze of service roads and paths. If the vehicle managed to get into that area, finding it would be almost impossible, and there would be numerous escape routes from which the foreigners could choose.
Fortunately for the Prime Minister, the Grand Duke liked motorcycles and had several expensive ones stored in the garage of the Royal Residence. Vladik and his partner knew how to ride, so they were able to get on the road immediately. They sped out of the Royal Compound, kicking up dust as they tore off towards the main road. With luck they would be able to catch up to the van before it got too deeply into the farming area. They entered the main highway and hit the gas. The motorcycles were expensive racing cycles and were able to move very fast. Vladik knew they would be much less useful on dirt roads, but he hoped to intercept the van before it got off the pavement.
Vladik called for backup as he and his partner swerved around a moving obstacle course of trucks, buses, and farmers’ pickups. The two cops passed the checkpoint where the van was last seen and were joined by four Rural Patrol cops riding standard Ministry of Justice motorcycles. The six officers exited the main highway where the road turned east, confident about the Prime Minister’s guess that the van would leave the main road. If it had not turned, the customs officials at the crossing would be there to intercept it.
The road east led through some steep hills before descending into the flat farm country that lay beyond. Unlike the main highway, the farm road was completely deserted because it was Sunday morning. The six cops swerved along the curves as they climbed towards the summit of the ridge. Close to the summit they saw the van, but the occupants also saw them. A man with a semi-automatic weapon stood up through the sun-roof and fired at the police officers. One of the highway patrol officers took a shot in the shoulder and nearly wiped out. Vladik signaled for him to pull off and for one of the other patrol officers to stop to administer first aid.
The remaining four cops fell back to allow a bend in the road to temporarily conceal them from the semi-automatic. They pulled out their revolvers and sped up, with the hope of shooting the van’s wheels before they had to fall back again. As soon as the van was in sight they emptied their pistols in unison, blowing out one of the rear tires and hitting the gas tank. A lucky shot also hit the man with the semi-automatic. He dropped the weapon and it fell tumbling onto the road. Vladik’s partner had to swerve to avoid it and nearly lost control of her motorcycle.
As Vladik and his three remaining companions reloaded their weapons and closed in on the van for the third time they noticed the trail of gasoline that was dribbling out of the hole in the tank. The van was kicking up sparks and swerving. Several more shots flew past them and they fell back. The cops realized that they no longer needed to stay within firing range of the vehicle because, without one of its rear tires, there was no chance it could travel much further. The pursuit, if there was to be one, would be on foot. The cops would stay just within sight of the van and wait for it to stop and the foreigners to flee. Then the officials would try to pin them down with fire and wait for back-up to arrive to make the arrest.
It turned out there would be no foot pursuit and no arrest. There was a flash as sparks from the bare wheel rim ignited the gas dribbling out of the tank. The driver lost control and the van spun off the side of the road, tumbling over and over as it rolled down the hill. The vehicle landed on its roof, crushing the occupants. As though to make sure the Mega-Town plotters were indeed dead, the gas tank exploded.
Vladik knew there was no hope that anyone inside the van could have survived the wreck and the fire that followed. He still felt it was necessary to go down the hill, just to be absolutely sure no potential survivors had been thrown clear of the vehicle as it went off the road. He left his partner to stand guard over the motorcycles and with the two patrol officers started to descend into the ravine. Even where they were, the officers were able to feel the heat from the fire and smell the burning flesh of the crash victims. There were several secondary explosions, followed by a flash and a sudden increase flames coming from within the wreck. Much later, investigators would speculate that the occupants were transporting several containers of extra gasoline, presumably to avoid having to stop for fuel. The additional gas added to the extreme heat of the fire and scorched the corpses.
The remains of the wreck burned very hot for the next several minutes. Without any firefighting equipment, there was nothing the cops could do about the van. Anyhow, Vladik’s main concern was the injured Rural Patrol officer. He ordered his companions to mount their motorcycles and return to the spot where the injured cop had been left behind with the man treating him. Vladik tried to contact them using his radio, but the hills prevented transmission. He realized something important, that no radio traffic about the final moments of the chase had been overheard by Central Command.
On their way back, Vladik’s partner retrieved the semi-automatic that had fallen during the shootout, and a few minutes later Vladik and the others rejoined the two patrol officers. The officer who had been shot had a serious injury, but it would not be life-threatening if the others could get him to a hospital within the next hour. That was not a problem, because there was a clinic just a few kilometers away, heading back in the direction of the main highway. The injured man gave Vladik a perfect justification to leave the crash site. Obviously his life was more important than the burning vehicle. Vladik took over one of the patrol motorcycles and ordered the others to strap the injured man to his back.
The cops parked one of the Grand Duke’s motorcycles in the bushes before returning to the clinic they had passed on the way up. The clinic was open (in Danubia all medical clinics are public and must have at least one staff member on-duty at all times). There was yet more luck for the officers, because a group of surgeons had just finished another operation. The injured cop was safely in the operating room minutes after his companions brought him to the clinic.
Vladik realized that because of a very unique set of circumstances there was absolutely no evidence that eight employees of Mega-Town Associates had just been killed a few kilometers up the road. The fire and multiple explosions had destroyed everything identifying who had been in the van, because the fire was so hot that it would even partially melt the metal parts of the vehicle. As the officers were waiting for news from the operating room, the corpses in the burning wreck were being cremated. Such heat also would incinerate any indication that the crash had been preceded by a shoot-out. The road had been deserted during the chase; not a single civilian had witnessed a white van with eight foreign passengers being pursued by six cops on motorcycles. The burning wreckage was not visible from the road unless someone stopped and looked over the edge. The accompanying patrol officers had no clue who was in the van; they simply joined the chase because Vladik had radioed for assistance.
As for the Mega-Town employees, they had entered Danubia using false passports, so there was no reason why anyone at the US or Brazilian embassies would want to inquire about missing citizens. According to official records the occupants of the van never entered Danubia, so there was no reason for the embassies to inquire about their disappearance. They never existed in the first place.
While the operation was still going on, Vladik explained the situation and how he wanted the other officers to handle it. For national security purposes they were to stay silent about the van. They would let someone else discover the burnt wreckage. The chase never happened. If the three Rural Patrol officers agreed to stay silent about the incident, Vladik would personally assure that they could put in for any assignment they wanted within the Danubian National Police and would be guaranteed to get it. As for the man who was injured, he would have the choice of taking any assignment he wanted or retiring with a full pension.
Vladik told the officers that the reason he did not want the story to get out was because he did not want Mega-Town to know what had happened to its employees. Let their disappearance remain a mystery, something upon which the company could waste its resources investigating in vain. The officers, all of whom hated Mega-Town, loved Vladik’s idea. He realized they would have gone along with it even without his promise about their assignments.
Vladik and his partner returned to the Royal Residence mid-afternoon. They returned the Grand Duke’s motorcycles to the garage before seeking out the Prime Minister. Vladik described the chase to his father and explained that, as far as he knew, no one except himself, his partner, and four Rural Patrol Officers knew about the deaths of the Mega-Town employees.
The crash had not been intentional, but it was extremely fortunate for the Prime Minister that it happened. Had the Mega-Town employees been captured, it would have been necessary to put them on trial and have them formally executed. The international scandal would have been horrendous, but the Danubian government would have had to stand its ground. The country was in a declared state of war with Mega-Town Associates and by law anyone working on behalf of the company was an enemy of the Danubian people. The struggle between the Danubian government and the Directorate of Mega-Town was a fight to the death. Just as the executives of Mega-Town had sworn to destroy Danubia, the Danubians felt obligated to kill anyone from Mega-Town they could lay their hands on.
Had the deaths from the chase been officially reported, that scandal would have been only slight less damaging than what would have resulted from a trial. Mega-Town would have launched a campaign to turn the eight men into martyrs, into innocent businessmen run down and murdered by the son of the brutal leader of a backwards and ignorant society that hated progress and economic freedom. The chance for such propaganda no longer existed, because the men had not been killed, they had mysteriously disappeared. Mega-Town would have to investigate privately, because to make an official declaration that eight of its employees had vanished in Danubia would open up a bunch of other questions the CEO would not want to answer.
Dukov immediately realized what his son’s quick thinking had done for him and for the Danubian government. The Mega-Town plotters were dead, but their deaths happened in such a way that there would be no scandal at all. The plot to take over the country by corrupting the Royal Family had failed. It had failed in secret, which would spare the need to put Grand Duchess Anyia on trial for treason.
Only one other person directly involved in the plot was still at large, the other Lord who had been Anyia’s second confidant. Tracking down Lord Vidmarkt turned out to be extremely easy because he was part of the Grand Duke’s hiking party. A group of forest rangers went after the Grand Duke’s group with the instructions that the hikers were to be told that there was an emergency in the Royal Residence and they had to return immediately. As soon as they were within sight of the national forest parking lot, the group realized that something was very wrong indeed. They were surrounded my uniformed National Police officers and ordered to get into separate vehicles. The Grand Duke was detained by the Minister of Justice.
The Grand Duke was treated as civilly as possible, but the Minister of Justice informed him that the Grand Duchess was facing a series of very serious charges related to the abuse of her servants. The Duke angrily inquired:
“And just who had the audacity to make such accusations against my wife?”
“Grand Duke, the charges were brought against her by your father-in-law and by Grand Prophet # 4. This was not something that was considered lightly. You will understand that your father-in-law had to move against the Grand Duchess, and if you have been listening to the council of her and her advisors, I believe you clearly understand why action had to be taken.”
The Grand Duke said nothing more.
When the police convoy arrived at the Royal Residence, the Grand Duke noticed that in the courtyard Anyia’s pillory and whipping post had been taken down and the holes already filled with small trees. No Royal Servants were in sight, nor were any uniformed staff members on the grounds except for two gardeners. The Grand Duke inquired about his wife, obviously concerned about his wife's well-being. One of his escorts responded that she was being held in a guest room and watched over by her mother. Meanwhile, he was taken upstairs and ordered to remain in the Royal Bedroom. When he picked up the phone he discovered it had been disconnected. The television and radio were missing, as was the modem on his computer. He realized he now was a prisoner.
Lord Vidmarkt did not fare as well as the Grand Duke. Uniformed National Police Officers took him to the basement and locked him in a holding cell. To his horror he realized that, not only was his fellow conspirator being held in a separate cell, but the men watching them were deputized Royal Guards. The Royal Guards had switched sides and now were cooperating with the Prime Minister. So…that was it…a plot that was supposed to have taken over an entire country was reduced to four people being held prisoner in the Royal Residence.
The Prime Minster took over a small reception room, accompanied by the Minister of Justice, the Priestess who had helped him set up the operation in the first place, and Grand Prophet # 4. He had four interviews to conduct and four cases to address. The most difficult, the case against his own daughter, he would save until the very end.
The first interview was with the Lord that had been tormenting Maria Elena. The official tried to appear indignant that his rights as a member of the nobility had been violated, but the Grand Prophet quickly shut him up.
“Lord, you wish to tell us that your privileges as a nobleman supersede those of a Grand Prophet? Do you really think you have the authority to silence the Danubian Church? This Priestess has acted on my behalf. Everything she has done has been with my blessing. If you wish to criticize or threaten her, please direct such comments to me.”
The Priestess read Criminal 101025’s confession and statement in its entirety. She followed with a written statement that she had prepared describing what she had seen the moment the door opened and Maria Elena was rescued. Finally she asked:
“Lord, I am curious about one thing. What was the purpose of making Criminal # 101025 bark like a dog? In what way was that intended to improve her service to the Grand Duchess?”
“I did that because it was my right as a Lord, Priestess. That criminal was handed over to me for my benefit, and I treated her in a manner that brought pleasure to me.”
The Minster of Justice spoke next:
“In trial we will determine whether or not abusing the Grand Duchess’s servants was indeed your right. The statements of your actions against your servants will be presented, in detail, for the nation to consider. You may, if you wish, make the case that your actions were not dishonorable. I will request that your wife and your children present themselves at your trial so they can listen to a full accounting of your behavior and your actions, and they can determine whether or not you acted with honor. You will also understand that we will hold your heirs financially responsible for any psychological counseling the servants might need. You will understand that such services are costly, so I might suggest you liquidate all your properties and investments and have the cash available to compensate the Ministry. You will serve the pig, your family name will be held in disgrace because of what you did, and your heirs will face impoverishment. The results of your case will destroy not only you, but your family. The impoverishment of your heirs and the dishonoring of your ancestors will be the legacy your actions will leave behind.”
It was at that moment the Lord realized how hopeless his situation truly was. He had squandered not only his life, but also the lives of his descendants and his ancestors. Serving the pig…a Life without Honor…that was only the beginning of the destruction he had brought upon himself and those around him.
The deputized Royal Guards took the Lord back to the holding cell and left him alone while the other Lord faced a similar depressing interview. The two men sat in their respective cells with no hope, in the depths of despair that they had brought upon themselves.
The next person that Dukov had to deal with was the Grand Duke. The ruler was escorted downstairs by Vladik and the Minister of Justice to the same sitting room where the two Lords had been interviewed. Dukov was not sure how to handle the Grand Duke; he would have to determine how much he knew about the Mega-Town plot.
The Prime Minister was surprised that the Grand Duke’s main concern was not preserving his title, but the honor of his wife. He had heard that Anyia had been whipped by her mother and was incensed that Anyia, the Grand Duchess of Danubia, could have been treated in such a disrespectful manner. Dukov stopped him.
“You will understand that to you, Anyia is the Grand Duchess. To me and to my wife, she is nothing but our daughter. She was our daughter before she met you, and in our eyes she remains our daughter. As such, I am aware of some weaknesses in her character, weaknesses that I believe you failed to notice. If you wish to remain married to her, you must come to terms with those weaknesses and assist her to overcome them. I love my daughter, just as you love your wife, but I am able to look at her clearly and see her for what she is. You must look at her as well, and understand the great harm that she has committed against this country, and the harm she has done to both of us.”
Grand Prophet # 4 questioned the Grand Duke about his wife’s activities and how much he knew about the abuse of her servants. He turned out to be fairly honest and was willing to recount various incidents that involved Anyia and Royal Servants. Dukov’s assessment of him was accurate, that mentally he was very lazy and had no desire to confront the much more strongly-willed Duchess. It wasn’t just that he loved her and wanted her to be happy. He knew what she was doing was wrong, but justified his inaction by hoping Anyia’s treatment of the servants was a phase that would calm down once she became pregnant or had some other event in her life to distract her. The weeks and months passed by and the Grand Duke decided to ignore the problem instead of addressing it. He left the house more frequently so he did not have to deal with what was going on, taking with him his favorite servants so they would not fall victim to Anyia’s temper tantrums. He treated his own servants well and became close to them, but ignored what was happening to the others.
Over the past year Anyia’s influence over him and his ability to make decisions had increased because he was more concerned about his leisure activities than anything else. He vaguely realized what she was plotting but, once again, he procrastinated trying to deal with her. Over time Anyia began to convince him that he was indeed the person in Danubia most fit to make decisions because of the family history. Towards the end of the interview he admitted that at some point it was likely that Anyia would have persuaded him to dissolve Parliament. He would have committed such a rash action just to please her, barely paying attention to the consequences of what she and her advisors had planned.
During the interview Dukov realized that his son-in-law was totally unaware that Anyia’s advisors were consulting with employees from Mega-Town Associates. He seemed genuinely horrified when he found out that Mega-Town was ultimately behind the advisors who had influenced the Grand Duchess.
Vladim Dukov felt that the Grand Duke should have been prosecuted for negligence and dereliction of duty, if nothing else. He had not willfully committed treason, but he was too apathetic and disinterested to concern himself with where his wife and her advisors wanted to take the country. Dukov commented:
“As Grand Duke, your duties aren’t very onerous, but the Danubian people do expect you to love your country. Your father understood what it was to love Danubia, which is why he’s now dead. As Prime Minister and as your father-in-law, I don’t think I’m asking much, but I am asking you to use what the Creator has granted you for the benefit of the Danubian citizenry. I believe that by ignoring what Anyia was doing in your house, you neglected your duty to your servants, and you neglected your duty to Danubia.”
“That is true, Prime Minister. I will not argue with you because I was indeed negligent. If you wish to say that against me in public, I won’t dispute it.”
Dukov changed the subject:
“Grand Duke, I’d like to ask you how much you love my daughter.”
“I love her, Prime Minister.”
“Do you love her enough to sacrifice for her?”
“Yes. I think that was part of my problem. I was willing to sacrifice for her. I still am.”
“I love my daughter as well, but I have come to understand that she is untrustworthy. To be honest, she is also rash and stupid. I am concerned that she may commit some idiotic act in the future. I am determined that will not happen, and I am determined to place you and your household above politics. Your family and your heirs will remain an institution that is dedicated to linking Danubia’s present to its past. My wish is to spare the Royal Family from scandal, because I believe such scandal would harm the Danubian people. However, if I am to spare your household from scandal, I will need to make changes in the constitution to protect your legacy.”
Dukov handed the Grand Duke the same typewritten copy of the Danubian Constitution he had shown Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna. To his surprise, the Duke looked over the document and agreed that the changes were acceptable. He commented:
“If the Grand Duchess ever nags at me again about dismissing Parliament, I can just shrug my shoulders and tell her that clause was deleted. That’ll make my life easier…”
Dukov said nothing, but inwardly felt disgust that the man sitting in front of him was his son-in-law. It seemed that everything the Grand Duke did was motivated by laziness. He even was willing to sign away his family’s traditional powers if it meant he did not have to argue with Anyia. Oh well…at least in this situation this man’s laziness will work to my benefit, Dukov thought to himself…
The Duke concluded:
“I will go along with your changes, Prime Minister, but under a condition. I will not allow any harm to come to the Grand Duchess. I do not want her put on trial or in any other way humiliated.”
“Grand Duke, the Church will determine what is best for the Grand Duchess. I have failed to temper my daughter’s weaknesses, and you have failed as well. We must accept the will of the Creator. Anyia must set aside the vices she has nurtured up to now and learn to assume a life of humble service. If she accepts the life the Church is planning to offer her, she will not face humiliation. If you love your wife and wish to spare her any further difficulties and anguish, you would serve her by convincing her that she needs to listen and obey when the Priestess speaks to her.”
Later that afternoon, Vladim Dukov went into the basement alone. The deputized Royal Guards opened up the cell where the Lord who had tormented Maria Elena was being kept. The guard closed the door behind him. The Lord stood up and saluted. Dukov did not return the salute.
“Lord, it is unbecoming of you to salute a man whose daughter you corrupted, whose son-in-law you attempted to turn into a tool of the Destroyer, whose household you have ruined, and whose life you sought to destroy. To salute me is inappropriate, because you are my enemy.”
“Very well, Prime Minister. Have it your way. We are enemies.”
“The decision for us to become enemies was yours, Lord, not mine.”
Dukov shrugged and continued:
“Anyhow, you will be interested to know that earlier today; three Americans, a German, and four Brazilians failed in their effort to leave the Danubian Republic. A piece of news that I thought I’d share with you. Fascinating, is that not so?”
The Lord went pale.
“W…why would I care? Foreigners…they come and go…and…”
“True…foreigners come and go…almost all, but not quite all, are innocent tourists…a few…like the eight I mentioned, have other things on their mind than simply seeing the country, is that not so?”
“Maybe that is so, but…in the end…you can’t win, Prime Minister. You are doing a disservice to the people of this country by fooling them that it is possible to fight against Mega-Town. They are the new reality. Mega-Town Associates is the future. It is foolish to fight the future. The planet will belong to them, and sooner or later their holdings will include Danubia.”
“I am proud to be a fool then, because I will fight. I know what I want for the future of Danubia, and that future does not include Mega-Town. Anyhow, I’m not here to debate the future of Danubia with you. I am here to see if I might assist your family.”
“Assist them? My family? And just how are you going to assist them?”
Dukov pulled out a small bottle of water from his pocket and a plastic cup. He also pulled out a small plastic box containing five pills. He set the items on the table.
“A dead man cannot be put on trial, Lord. I am giving you the opportunity to spare your family from the consequences of what you have done. You will understand that I am doing this for your family, not for you.”
“And for your daughter, undoubtedly.”
“Very true, but in your situation I wouldn’t worry about that. I would worry about your children. I would worry about how the world remembers your ancestors.”
Dukov turned away and left the room.
During the final hour of his existence in the Realm of the Living, the Lord quietly stared at the water and the pills that would separate his soul from his body. The Danubians do not have any strong social taboos against suicide; if a person’s situation is unbearable or threatens the honor of loved ones; then suicide is considered a reasonable choice. In the case of someone like the Lord, to attempt to go on living would not have made any sense.
Finally, after contemplating the futility of everything that he had done with his life, the Lord worked up the courage to do what was needed to spare his family humiliation and impoverishment. He unscrewed the bottle and filled the cup. He took the pills one at a time, following each with several sips of water. He took a few more sips to make sure the pills were completely washed down. He lay on the bed, already feeling deliciously relaxed. A few minutes later he was deeply asleep, as his soul began its journey into the Realm of the Dead.
The sun already was low in the horizon when Vladik ordered the Royal Guards to go to the basement and retrieve two bodies. The guards dressed the bodies in black burial robes that were used exclusively by members of the nobility before moving them upstairs. They lay in main reception hall, awaiting transportation to their respective families. An envelope containing a death certificate was lying on top of each corpse. One of the corpses also had a suicide note to his family that read:
I have lived the last three years of my life in dishonor. Today the Creator confronted me with the consequences of my actions. Rather than continuing to dishonor and harm those around me, I have chosen to separate my soul from my body. Because of the final decision I have taken during this life, you will be spared knowing about the evils I committed and the consequences that you would have suffered as the result of what I did. I regret that I will never see you again. You were a gift from the Creator that I did not appreciate until it was too late.
While Cecilia slept on a bed in the infirmary, Maria Elena nervously waited for the final order to leave the Royal Residence. That wait was briefly interrupted when Kim sent in a Ministry of Justice doctor to examine Criminal # 101025. The exam was a typical post-rape examination. The doctor impassively looked at the sores and abrasions on the Colombian’s vagina, then rubbed antiseptic cream into her sphincter. As soon as the cream was covering her bottom, the burning stopped. He gave her a rectal exam, but was very gentile with his finger. He commented that she had been roughly treated, but that her pain was just from bruising. At the end of the appointment he gave her a bottle of antibiotics and told her that she should completely recover within a couple of days.
The doctor took a look at Cecilia and ordered Maria Elena to wake her up. Neither woman had noticed, but Cecilia’s feet were in bad shape from the walk the night before. She did not have time to become used to walking barefoot for long distances and was suffering from the results of 12 hours of non-stop walking unprotected on pavement and dirt. As a result her feet were very dirty, the skin had worn off, and the soles were covered with broken blisters.
The doctor ordered Maria Elena to fill a large medical basin with water and dumped in a bottle of disinfectant. He handed her a sponge and a towel and told her to clean off her translator’s feet. Cecilia winced as her housemate rinsed the dirt out of her blisters and covered them with bandages. Maria Elena decided to completely wrap Cecilia’s injured feet, hoping the Priestess would not object to bandages that would serve as temporary footwear.
The doctor departed and Cecilia went back to sleep. Maria Elena once again was left alone. She was desperately tired, but did not dare go to sleep out of fear that her translator might disappear the moment her eyes closed. Once again she sat on Cecilia’s bed, determined that the moment her translator left the room, she would go with her.
It was dinnertime before Spokeswoman Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna finally had time to get Director Sanchez and Criminal # 101025 out of the infirmary. Vladik’s partner pulled up to the main door in a police van, ready to take Cecilia and Maria Elena to Victor Dukov’s house. Kim pointed to the front and told Cecilia to help Criminal # 101025 to the door. However, Maria Elena turned out to be the one helping Cecilia, as she walked gingerly on her bandages. When the Priestess saw Cecilia painfully limping out of the infirmary with her feet covered, she held her tongue, realizing that she already had put the poor girl through a lot.
Maria Elena was desperate to get out of the Royal Residence, but before she and Cecilia got to the door she saw something that stopped her dead in her tracks. Near the entrance, positioned to be taken out, were the bodies of the two Lords that had been the assistants for the Grand Duchess. Just one day before, they were destined to become the next rulers of the Danubian Republic, but now they were lying dead. Maria Elena held her breath, unable to believe what she was seeing.
“Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna…did…they…I mean…were they…executed?”
“No, not executed. They would have had to go on trial to be executed. They committed suicide. They knew their ambitions had been thwarted; they knew that their lives had no further purpose, so they killed themselves. You need to understand that as well, Criminal # 101025. It’s over. Everything that went on in this house, everything that you saw and experienced, stopped today.”
Maria Elena trembled as she approached the grayish face of the man who had tormented her. Still not quite believing what she was seeing, she raised her hand…
“Touch him, if you want. He’s nothing but an inanimate object. Nothing but a thing. That’s all that’s left. Touch him so that you can be satisfied, in your own heart, that his existence has ceased.”
Maria Elena pushed her fingertips against the corpse. It already had started to cool and felt…different. She quickly drew back her hand.
“There’s your proof your torment has ended and your task here is completed, Criminal # 101025. Not pleasant to look at, but this is the last time you’ll ever see him.”
Kim pointed at the waiting van.
“That’s it, time to go home. I’ll call Victor to let him know you are on your way. I’ll see you tomorrow in my office at 7:30. We’ve got the court hearing at 8:00.”
Cecilia and Maria Elena then knelt so the Spokeswoman could dismiss them.
“Good night, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna, may the Ancients protect you.”
“Good night Cecilia Sanchez and Criminal # 101025. May the Creator guide you and protect you on your journey.”
Director Cecilia Sanchez and Criminal # 101025 exited the Royal Residence and boarded the waiting police van. The van pulled away from the Royal Compound, passed through the gate, and drove along a very dark road for several kilometers. The driver turned onto the main road, which was largely deserted because it was Sunday night. A couple of minutes later Maria Elena saw something that raised her spirits considerably, a sign that read:
Danúbikt Móskt – nád 12 km.
That sign, more than anything else, assured her that she was indeed going home.
Chapter 22 - Anyia’s transformation
As soon as Cecilia and Maria Elena departed for Merchant Victor Dukov’s house, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna asked Officer Vladik Dukov to drive her to the Central Police Station. She ran upstairs and returned to her office with a list of tasks that she needed to accomplish to be ready for the next day. She began by notifying the former servants’ respective Spokespersons of their release and that they needed to show up to court the next morning to re-assume custody of their clients. The other Spokespersons, in turn, would have to notify their clients’ family members and make sure each had a home to go to Monday night. Former employers also would have to be notified, to make sure each of the 30 criminals was gainfully employed within three days.
After notifying her co-workers, Kim called the Ministry of Justice doctors and the single psychiatrist who worked at the Central Police Station. Before returning to court the criminals needed to have their medical histories updated…and the women needed to be checked for pregnancy. Kim desperately hoped the Royal Couple or Anyia’s two Lords had forced the female servants to take birth-control pills, but she had no way of knowing for sure without seeing whatever medical records had been kept at the Royal Residence.
The psychiatrist had a very busy night ahead of him, because he would have to interview all 30 criminals before 8:00 the next morning. There were a bunch of psychological issues to work out. Kim reflected that an outsider such as Cecilia might have felt that it was unfair to keep former servants locked up in holding cells in the Central Police Station, but she remained convinced that the Royal Servants needed to have at least one night of transition before returning to their previous lives. Some of Anyia’s slaves had not used their voices for over a year, so even the simple act of talking or participating in a conversation would be difficult at the beginning. Most of them were traumatized and full of fear or hatred, some more than others. She knew that some would be full of self-loathing and might contemplate suicide.
Six of the former Royal Servants had been Kim’s clients. She felt that she needed to see them right away, so for her there would be no rest after finishing her phone calls. She went into her outer office, opened six case files, and asked one of the cops on duty to go to the holding cells and bring up her clients. All six were foreigners; five young women convicted of drug charges, and one young man who had been part of a clandestine missionary group and was convicted of proselytizing a foreign religion. The six clients quietly knelt while their Spokeswoman explained what had happened.
“I don’t think anyone would have imagined that one person could have done so much harm in the position of Grand Duchess in such a short time as Anyia Dukov. I don’t know what to say to you, because that woman’s behavior went way beyond dishonorable. I’d like to be able to hold out some sort of reward for you, but I can’t offer very much. I will tell you that the conditions of the remaining part of your sentences will improve. Tomorrow each of you will get a collar with a brass ring, which means you won’t be restricted to the Danube City collar zone. Also, the Ministry thinks you’ve had enough whippings, so that’s over as well. All of your scheduled switchings will be canceled.”
Most criminals would have been elated to be told that they would be issued brass rings for their collars. Criminals who wore brass rings were the most privileged of anyone under ownership of the Ministry of Justice. The brass ring normally was issued under special circumstances to criminals considered exceptionally trustworthy or who had performed an act of heroism, or to criminals who in some way had assisted the Danubian police. Criminals who wore brass rings were forced to remain naked (nakedness was automatically required of anyone wearing a collar) but they were free to move about Danubia and did not have to worry about corporal punishments. A criminal wearing a brass ring essentially held the same position as a person performing Public Penance.
Kim looked at the reactions of her clients. The former servants looked at their Spokeswoman impassively, their faces devoid of any expression. She was not surprised, because Royal Servants were forced to hide their emotions. It would take several weeks and some counseling to convince them that it was all right to express themselves. She continued:
“You’ve been through a lot, and I think that issuing brass rings is the very least we can do to compensate you. Now, you will understand that in spite of your brass rings, you are still criminals serving sentences. I expect you to remember that. If any of you violates protocol, the conditions of your original conviction and sentencing will be restored.”
The tall German girl with the tattoo on her ankle shyly raised her hand:
“Spokeswoman, Lee-Dolkivna, I request permission to speak.”
“Yes Criminal # 100904?”
“What’s going to happen to the Grand Duchess?”
“Well, her parents will have to deal with her. To be honest, with the way they feel about her, I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes. The Prime Minister is so mad that he wanted her to be sentenced to Life without Honor. That won’t happen, mainly because of the public scandal that it would cause. The Grand Duchess is going to have some restrictions in her life, however. A lot of restrictions, from what I understand.”
Maritza Ortskt-Dukovna spent the afternoon locked in a guest bedroom with her daughter. She wanted to talk to Anyia about her situation, but the only thing the younger woman wanted was a dress and to be let out of the room. Several times Anyia demanded a dress and her crown, props that could have given back some of her self confidence and feeling of authority. However, Marizta repeated the ominous news that it was unlikely she would ever be allowed to get dressed again. The Grand Duchess found that hard to believe.
If Maritza was not willing to quit blocking the door, Anyia had nothing more to say to her. For a long time neither woman said anything, so the room was full of tense silence. Maritza finally gave up trying to communicate. She simply sat reading, with the hope that her presence would keep her daughter from trying anything stupid.
Anyia remained shocked and incredulous that her mother would have been capable of punishing her with a belt on her own whipping post in front of her household staff. Tears rolled down her cheeks and her soul burned with humiliation. She sat on a chair looking out the window, every so often shifting uncomfortably on her bruised backside. She hated her mother for the crime committed against her, but said nothing because for the time being she was concerned about suffering another punishment. She wanted to avoid that, but as soon as the Grand Duke got home and could straighten everything out, she fully planned to get even with her parents.
Maritza could tell by the girl’s behavior that she did not feel any remorse over what she had done, but instead harbored a smoldering rage that fueled fantasies of revenge. She sadly shook her head. Anyia, you just don’t get it…it’s over.
Shortly after Cecilia and Maria Elena left the Royal Residence, Vladim Dukov approached the room where his wife was watching over his daughter. He knocked. When Maritza opened the door the Prime Minister whispered to her everything that had transpired that afternoon, concluding that he and the Clergy members were ready to confront Anyia. Maritza whispered back that it was obvious that she still did not recognize how serious her situation was. He pushed open the door and raised his voice.
“Our daughter does not think I am serious. Very well, I will persuade her otherwise.”
The tone of her father’s words unsettled Anyia. What happened next unsettled her much more. Vladik and his partner entered the room, grabbed the Grand Duchess, and cuffed her hands behind her back. Anyia struggled and screamed indignantly. Vladim stepped out for a moment and returned with a finely crafted leather switch. It was her favorite switch, the one she kept with her at all times so she could punish her servants on the spur of the moment. He held the switch to her face, touching it to her cheek like she had done so many times to her servants. Anyia took the warning and calmed down.
“Grand Duchess…” (He pronounced the title using a very contemptuous tone of voice…) “…you will come. I believe you wish to see your two advisors.”
With her brother and his partner firmly grabbing her by the arms, Anyia was led out of the room and downstairs to the main entryway. She felt her heart stop when she saw two prostrate figures in burial robes lying near the door. She was terrified and did not want to go any closer. Vladim signaled to his son to force her forward. The Grand Duchess struggled to get away, but she was no match for Vladik and his partner. They lifted her off the floor and carried her to the bodies.
“NO! You murderer! You…”
Anger swept through the Prime Minister. He trembled with rage as his normally quiet demeanor snapped:
“Take a look at them, Anyia! Take a good look at the dead traitors! Take a look at my enemies, the enemies of my government, the enemies of our people, the enemies of Danubia! Take a good look at men who betrayed Danubia, who attempted to sell this country for Euros!”
“Take a good look, Anyia! These two are dead, because they wanted to sell our country! Sell it, Grand Duchess! They negotiated a selling price for Danubia and they signed a contract with Mega-Town Associates!”
Dukov grabbed a folder that had been taken out of the car belonging to one of the Lords. He pulled out a very official-looking document. He held it in front of Anyia and pointed to a figure in the text, an agreement that the two Lords would receive five hundred million Euros in exchange for conceding Danubia’s natural resources to Mega-Town.
“These two tried to sell Danubia for five hundred million Euros! They tried to sell the Realm of the Ancients, the land of your ancestors, the home of the people who love you, who are naïve enough to think you care about them! If only the public knew, Anyia! If only they knew what a vile, contemptuous, dishonored creature you have become!”
The Prime Minister moved in front of his daughter and slapped her hard across the face.
“Oh! Did I defile your Divineness? Very well…just so there is no doubt…let me defile your Divineness again!”
Dukov laid a second fearsome slap across the young woman’s face. Before she could react, he grabbed her by the back of the neck and forced her face within centimeters of the grayish face of Lord Vidmarkt.
“Maritza, go get her crown and bring it to me!”
A moment later Maritza returned with Anyia’s finely-crafted crown. It was not the antiquity traditionally worn by Danubian Grand Duchesses; it had been special-ordered the year before from a jeweler in Monaco for a scandalous price.
Dukov released Anyia’s neck, but Vladik and his partner still held her arms tight. What the Prime Minister did next shocked everyone in the room. He threw Anyia’s crown on the floor and stomped on it. He kicked at the pieces, scattering diamonds and sapphires.
“If you think you will avenge yourself against me, Anyia, you are sadly mistaken! You will not have me killed, because no one will ever follow an order from you…ever! Dishonored traitors like you are not in a position to issue orders!”
To prove his point, Dukov grabbed Anyia’s switch and viciously struck her across her thighs. Anyia screamed from pain and fright. The Prime Minister struck her four more times before tossing the implement across the room. As Anyia continued to sob with terror, her father screamed:
“And that’s just the treason! How do you justify defiling your servants? How do you justify destroying Church documents? How do you justify trying to have your own parents killed? How do you justify spitting on your own mother? How do you justify all that? With your crown? Take a look at your crown! Take a look at what I did to it!”
Everyone present stood in terrified silence. In all the years he had served in public, first in the courtroom and then as Prime Minister, no one had ever seen Vladim Dukov lose his temper. He paused, noting the reddening welts crossing his daughter’s bare thighs. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down. He felt ashamed of his behavior, but he knew there was no way to undo what he had just done.
Everyone then noticed a change in Anyia. She slumped in the grip of the two police officers. Tears were streaming down her face as she contemplated the corpses of her friends and the scattered jewels of her crushed crown. Her father may have felt ashamed of his outburst and striking her across her legs, but it turned out that was precisely what was needed to break her. The illusion she had of her own grandeur melted away in an instant. Dukov noted the change as well. He resumed his normal tone of voice.
“Take my daughter to the sitting room and present her to Grand Prophet # 4.”
As Anyia was being led away the Prime Minister turned to the various servants and cops standing in the room
“Officers, please remove the corpses from this property and return them to their families. And gather up those jewels. I need them taken to the Ministry of Finance and secured in the vault.”
Vladik and his partner dragged Anyia into the smaller reception room where the Priestess, Grand Prophet # 4, and several other Clergy members were waiting. The Prime Minister and his wife followed. They immediately approached Grand Prophet # 4 and knelt, touching their heads to the floor. It was strange to see a man in a business suit and a woman in a formal dress kneeling before a member of the Clergy, because normally anyone not performing Penance would be wearing a prayer robe. However, under the circumstances at the moment prayer robes were the least of anyone’s concerns. The Grand Prophet blessed the First Couple and told them to rise and take a seat.
Vladik and his partner forced Anyia to kneel. The Clergy members immediately noted the same change in Anyia that the cops and staff in the main reception hall had noticed, that the Grand Duchess’s spirit had broken. She no longer was the cruel imperious mistress of the Royal Household, but instead a miserable and frightened young woman who was just beginning to understand the awful consequences of everything she had done over the past three years.
The Priestess rose, carrying a folder full of confession statements from the Royal Servants, as well as statements from several members of the salaried staff who also had requested interviews with the Clergy. She picked out five of the statements, the ones that she considered the worst examples of abuse that Anyia had inflicted on those tasked to serve her.
What followed was a formal hearing that would strip Anyia of her Royal Immunity. For the next two hours, the Priestess read the five statements in their entirety. She only interrupted when she came to a particularly grievous action or order the Grand Duchess had given, asking her if indeed the statement was true. Anyia, who knelt quietly with tears still streaming down her cheeks, repeatedly answered: “Yes, Priestess, that statement is true.”
Anyia’s parents and brother listened in appalled silence to the steady stream of protocol violations and bizarre behavior that had constituted Anyia’s daily routine since she assumed the crown. Listening was especially painful to her parents. They had known for several weeks what was going on in the Royal Residence, but to hear the details made them physically sick.
After two hours, the Priestess concluded by asking:
“Anyia Dukov, do you feel that your servants did anything to deserve the way you treated them?”
“No, Priestess, they didn’t. They didn’t deserve it.”
“Then…why? Why did you constantly beat and defile people whose only wish was to serve your desires and needs? Why were you so desperate to treat your servants as sexual toys and strip away their honor? How can you justify what you did to them?”
“I can’t justify what I did them, Priestess. I just did it because it was what I enjoyed doing. That’s the only answer I can give you.”
The Priestess looked hard at the Grand Duchess. Anyia’s simple response, along with her subdued behavior, indicated that the young woman’s transformation already had begun. The shock of her detention, being punished by her parents, seeing her co-conspirators lying dead, and finally hearing her own actions read to her by a member of the Danubian Clergy, had broken the imperious view of herself that she had developed over the past decade. There was no need to break her any further.
The Priestess read a series of passages from the Texts of the Ancients concerning the plight of evil rulers. According to the Texts, it was clear that Anyia had violated the trust the Creator had placed in her. The violation of that trust superseded the Royal Protocol that had protected her up to that moment. Therefore Anyia’s Royal Immunity would be canceled. She would return to being an ordinary citizen, and thus be subject to trial.
“There are two separate sets of violations that you have committed. The first is the one that has brought you before me, the way you treated your servants. The Church will cancel your Royal Immunity so your father can address the second issue, the fact that you provided assistance to the enemies of the Danubian people.”
Dukov spoke next.
“Anyia, you will recall that four years ago Danubia was invaded by Mega-Town Associates. We placed the leaders of that operation on trial. Do you remember what happened to them?”
“They were sentenced to Life without Honor, Father.”
“That is correct, Life without Honor. A life of serving the pig. Do you consider their crimes against this country any more heinous than what you and your confidants were planning? I consider what you planned worse, because your predecessors attempted to take over the Realm of the Ancients through an honest force of arms. Nations have done that since the beginning of time. But your plot was not through force of arms. Your confidants wanted to sell Danubia. Sell it. And you intended to use your title and your relationship with your husband to assist that sale. So, my daughter…answer the question. Can you think of any reason you should not be put on trial, your actions and intentions publicly exposed, and you sentenced to Life without Honor?”
Anyia cried. For the first time she truly understood what the two Lords had been planning. They had befriended her, but the purpose of that friendship was to use her to take over the country so it could be sold, for what was a paltry sum of money. Five hundred million Euros for an entire country…really that was nothing.
“I…I don’t want to continue with my life, Father…I…couldn’t…couldn’t you have me executed instead?”
“But do you think you deserve something as simple as a clean execution? Because I don’t. What you deserve is not a simple separation of your body from your soul, Anyia; what you deserve is to spend the rest of your life serving the pig.”
Anyia sobbed and nodded. Dukov turned away, because his own eyes had filled with tears. He had said what he needed to say to his daughter, but it didn’t make him feel any better.
The Priestess realized that Dukov would not be able to speak again without his voice cracking. She came to his aid…with the offer from the Church that would spare Anyia her life, her title, and most of her honor.
“Anyia Dukov, you need to listen to me. You need to fully comprehend what you have done, and the extent to which the Destroyer took over your life. You need to understand the fate that you deserve. I believe you do understand.”
“I…I don’t know what to say, Priestess. I don’t know whether I understand or not…why…what happened to me…”
“I believe you understand more than you realize, which was one of many requests I had for the Creator that concern you. Now, there is something else that you must understand. The door has not closed on your life, Anyia Dukov, at least not yet. For a person with a damaged soul, you are extraordinarily lucky. You have a chance to be spared from everything you have done. Very few people with damaged souls have such an opportunity. You do.”
The Priestess and the Prime Minister exchange glances. He wanted her to continue:
“You will understand that the Danubian people do not know anything about your behavior and your intentions for the country. They are under the illusion that you are an honorable sovereign who cares about the well-being of Danubia above anything else. You have the opportunity to make that illusion into reality. You can assume a simple life of service to your country and to the Church and escape from who you have been up until this morning. You can set an example of humble service by accepting a collar from the Temple, an example for your fellow countrymen to follow. If you take the collar, you will escape from your sins, because you understand that once you are collared, no one will ask you about your misdeeds. You will be protected from yourself, from your own past.”
Performing Public Penance had been the farthest thing from Anyia’s mind, but she realized it did offer her an opportunity to escape from the multitude of crimes she had committed over the past several years.
“If you submit to Penance, you can remain in this house and continue your life as Grand Duchess. Your relationship with your subjects will be preserved. In fact it will be strengthened, because you will show yourself as a servant of the nation. You have the opportunity to redeem yourself.”
Anyia was silent for a long time. Finally she asked:
“Father, if you say what I deserve is serving the pig, that I am unworthy of even being executed, then…why are you sparing me?”
Dukov turned back to face her. His eyes were still full of tears, but he managed to maintain control of his voice.
“I can justify sparing your title by saying that the Danubian people have suffered many changes and many traumas since I became Prime Minister. Right now is not the time for our nation to lose the Royal Family, not on top of everything else that has been lost. I can say that, but that is not the main reason. The main reason is that you remain my daughter. In spite of everything, you are still my child and I still love you.”
“Even though I tried to have you killed?”
“Your mother and I are very hurt, but…I want to forgive you. I can forgive you if you make yourself worthy of being forgiven. I believe you can do that, if you wish. That is why we are sparing you.”
Dukov changed the subject slightly.
“I think…we all need to start over…and you need to start over with your husband. Redeem yourself and then go meet him for the first time. He is a weak person, but he loves you and is willing to sacrifice for you. No matter what you do, he will strive to accommodate your desires. You are destined to influence him and the future of the Royal Family. Why not make that influence something from the Creator instead of from the Destroyer?”
Anyia sobbed again, but managed to respond:
“Yes, father…I’ll do…what I can…to help my husband. I…what do I have to do?”
The Priestess responded:
“Anyia Dukov, you will come with me. We will walk to the church that is just outside the Royal Residence. We will arrive before daybreak so no one sees you. Tomorrow night we will walk again, and the night after that we will walk yet again. On the third night we will arrive at the Temple of the Ancients. Once we arrive at the main Temple, you will submit to the collar. During the days you will rest, but we will also talk to you, so that you understand what the Creator is asking of you. You will not assume the collar until you are ready, which is the purpose of our journey. During the three days and three nights of travelling, you will prepare yourself for your new life.”
Dukov spoke next.
“I will tell your husband where you are and what you are doing. I don’t think you should see him until you have completed your journey and assumed the collar.”
“Father…will anything happen to him? Please…he didn’t do anything…I was the one…”
“You will be held responsible for your own transgressions, but your husband has committed transgressions as well. He will have to come to terms with his actions, just as you will come to terms with yours.”
The Priestess and three Priests stood up. Vladik uncuffed his sister and helped her to her feet. She was unsteady after having knelt for such a long period of time. After a short prayer, the four Clergy members led the naked young woman to the door of the Royal Residence. They stripped of their garments, folded them, and handed them to Anyia to carry. The group silently set off into the darkness, walking in single file, to a small church that was about five kilometers away.
As they watched the departing group vanish into the night, Grand Prophet # 4 addressed the Prime Minister:
“Your daughter will be travelling with my Clergy for three days, Prime Minister. I understand that during that time you will be promoting your constitutional changes for the Royal Family?”
“That is correct, Grand Prophet. Three days should be enough. The Grand Duke already assured me that he will accept my proposals. I’ll have the legislation passed before Anyia returns to this house.”
The Grand Prophet smiled slightly.
“You didn’t think it would be this easy, did you Prime Minister?”
“No, Grand Prophet, to be honest, I didn’t. I was convinced Anyia would put up more resistance.”
“Then maybe you didn’t know her as well as you thought, Prime Minister. Did it ever occur to you that, in her conscience, she knew that her soul had been occupied by the Destroyer, and that perhaps she was deeply frightened? That maybe, even as we speak, her spirit is uplifted with joy at having been released?”
“I don’t know, Grand Prophet. I don’t know what is going on in her head right now. I’m sure she is relieved at being spared a fate of serving the pig, but I don’t know how much remorse she really has.”
“Remorse…no, Prime Minister…that will come later. But I can tell you that over the next three days she will feel the joy of being liberated from the grip of the Destroyer. I believe… that she must have felt she controlled everything around her, but in reality it was everything around her that controlled your daughter. Now, we have removed all those burdens and the only thing Anyia needs to worry about is herself. She will control nothing, and nothing will control her. That is the understanding she will achieve during her walk.”
“Grand Prophet…the thought of my daughter worrying only about herself is nothing new. Throughout her life, the only thing Anyia has ever worried about is herself…she never gave any thought to anyone else…or anything…unless it brought her pleasure”
“Ahhh…but when you say that your daughter only thought about herself, what truly concerned her was the material items in the Realm of the Living she could control. I repeat, she now controls nothing of the material world, and thus the material world has completely released its grip on her. When I say she will worry about herself, what I mean is…really worry about herself…deep down in her soul…I believe that will be a new experience for her.”
Dukov did not reply…he found it hard to accept that he did not know his daughter as well as he had thought, that perhaps his negative opinion of her was not justified. Noting his skepticism, the Prophet concluded:
“Three days from now Anyia will stand in front of the Temple of the Ancients and she will perform her first act of service to the people of this nation. Right after her Public Penance begins, she will present herself in front of a camera and speak to the Danubians. Following the advice of my Priestess, the Grand Duchess of the Danubian Republic will tell our people that she is wearing the collar to escape from the control that the material world attempted to place on her. The public will accept that explanation and respect her even more than they do now. Your daughter will be happy and liberated, not subdued and miserable as you anticipate. Most importantly, by presenting herself as an example of austere and honest living, she will assist you in your battle against Mega-Town Associates and everything they stand for. She will become an enemy of consumerism, and in doing so help move this country even further from what your enemies envision for its future.”
Dukov contemplated what the Prophet had just told him.
“You will witness illusion as it becomes reality, Prime Minster. Your daughter has been cast down, but now the Creator will lift her up. She will serve our people in ways you never could have imagined.”
Anyia followed the four naked Clergy members away from her house, across the Royal Grounds, and finally through the gate that led to the outside world. Her backside was still sore from the punishment her mother had giving her earlier that morning. The welts on her thighs continued to burn. She could feel the aching numbness in her cheek where her father had slapped her. Her legs were tired and her feet hurt from walking barefoot on open ground. Her arms started to ache from carrying the clothing of the Clergy members who were leading her away from her old life and towards a new one. None of that mattered.
In spite of her fear and her physical discomfort, Anyia was increasing happy as her journey progressed. She had never been outside in the country at night before, so everything she was experiencing was totally new to her. Bats chirped over her head and owls hooted in the distance. There were very few lights during that first leg of her trek, so she could see the stars in their full glory. The cool night breeze caressed her bare body. Her life was one of pain and pleasure, and now a life of silence and peace.
For the first time in her life Anyia Dukov felt that she could clear her mind. She no longer controlled what was happening to her, so she could let her spirit relax. For the next three days her Path in Life would to obey whatever the Priestess told her to do. Finally she would arrive at the Temple, take her collar, and start over with her life.
After an hour and a half of peaceful walking, Anyia could see a small church in the distance, the first stop in her three-day journey. She was immensely tired, but very happy. The words spoken to her earlier in the evening repeated themselves in her mind:
“The door has not closed on your life, Anyia Dukov, at least not yet. For a person with a damaged soul, you are extraordinarily lucky. You have a chance to be spared from everything you have done. Very few people with damaged souls have such an opportunity. You do.”
Chapter 23 - Homecoming
Cecilia Sanchez and Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres quietly stared out through the van’s windows as the line of lights in the distance marking the edge of Danube City grew brighter. Within a few minutes individual buildings came into view; then suddenly the vehicle passed the first houses lining the city’s edge. The van turned onto a street of nicer residences and passed a yellow sign that marked the edge of the Danube City collar-zone. A few meters beyond was the house where Vladim Dukov had lived before he was Prime Minister, and where his son Vladik now lived with his wife and two sons.
The van turned from the side street onto a tree-lined boulevard leading towards the city center, but then veered to the northeast to go towards the University District. Soon the part of the city most familiar to Cecilia and Maria Elena came into view, a section of houses built around 1910 that were almost completely hidden by large trees. A short distance beyond lay the university, but the van’s driver was not taking them that far.
During the entire trip neither Maria Elena nor Cecilia felt inclined to talk. Now that she had some rest, Cecilia was awake enough to feel the painful sores covering her feet and to fret about what would happen when Victor and her nephew Pedro saw her naked and collared. As for Maria Elena, the momentary happiness she felt upon leaving the Royal Residence had faded back into emotional numbness and a fatigue that was deeper than anything she had ever experienced. She was dead tired from not having slept, but also she was still in shock from the events that had torn at her over the past week.
Finally the van pulled to a stop in front of Merchant Victor Dukov’s house. Victor quietly stepped outside, with Jason and Pedro shyly following. The side door of the van opened and the two women got out. The moment had come for Maria Elena to return to her lover’s arms and for Cecilia to begin her radically changed life. For a moment the two women stood quietly, simply staring at their loved ones but unable to speak. Everyone was very uncomfortable, not just because of the experiences that Maria Elena and Cecilia had just endured, but also because no one was used to seeing Victor and Cecilia naked and wearing Temple collars. Pedro, especially, seemed not to know what to make of seeing his authoritative aunt wearing nothing but a collar and a subdued expression.
It was Jason who broke the silence. He stepped forward to take Cecilia in his arms. Victor followed suit and embraced Maria Elena. At first she couldn’t react. She wanted to feel joy at being back in Victor’s arms, but couldn’t feel anything at all. She hated herself for her lack of emotion, but then the numbness lifted and she started crying. She hugged Victor hard as her old personality asserted itself through the trauma of the past week. She realized it would take time, but eventually she would indeed recover.
The cops in the van drove off and everyone went inside. Jason had a practical issue to deal with, the condition of Cecilia’s feet. He helped her upstairs, unwrapped her bandages, and put more disinfectant on her sores. He told her that if she stayed off her feet she would be much better the next day, and that calluses that would protect her would start forming within a few days. His own feet were covered with thick calluses, from spending four years living without footwear whenever weather permitted.
Cecilia summarized what had happened at the Royal Residence, focusing on that awful moment the Royal Guard pulled open the cellar door and she saw Maria Elena as she was being beaten and raped. Then she related the day’s other events, right up to the moment she and Maria Elena passed the corpses of the two treasonous Lords and headed out to the van.
There was a lot missing from Cecilia’s narrative, because she had no information concerning what had become of Grand Duchess Anyia. She had overheard one of the servants mentioning that she had been beaten by her mother, but had not seen the punishment herself and did not know if it was true. She had no clue what had happened to the Grand Duke. To that Jason responded:
“Well, you’ll be in court tomorrow and I’d imagine Kim will fill you in.”
Jason ran Cecilia a bath and carried her to the tub so she wouldn’t have to get on her feet. Being carried made Cecilia feel like an invalid, but Jason was insistent. She had to stay off her feet until the next morning so they could heal.
A few minutes later Jason lifted Cecilia out of the bathtub and set her on a towel on her bed. As he carried her, Cecilia’s feelings about him changed somewhat. She now was helpless and dependent upon him. Not only was she feeling weak in his strong arms, but also she realized that during her time she was collared he would be in charge of what was going on in her life. He knew what she needed to do about her feet, just like he knew how she would have to make the transition to properly performing Public Penance. It was the collar that would make her dependent upon him. Anytime in the past, she would not have found submitting to his direction acceptable, but at that moment she realized that she didn’t mind.
Victor had his own set of psychological issues to contend with as he held his traumatized lover in his arms. He felt horribly guilty that she had suffered so much at the hands of his own niece, the daughter of his brother. Of course the reason why that had happened was because of a very unique set of legal circumstances that had just been terminated, but at the moment that was not any consolation. The fact that he had spent the week totally helpless, fretting about her situation but unable to do anything to assist her, wore on his conscience. He was ashamed of his own helplessness.
Finally Maria Elena calmed down enough that Victor was able to take her inside. In the living room he saw the full extent to which she had been abused. Her body was covered with bruises and welts. Her bottom had taken the brunt of the abuse and was covered with painful welts and dark bruises. Beyond her backside the welts thinned out somewhat, but no part of her body: not her legs, nor her back, nor her arms, nor her breasts, had been spared from the continuous whippings of the Lord who had tormented her. Victor was enraged by what had happened, but for him there would be no revenge, because the Lord who had abused her was dead.
As soon as Jason had taken Cecilia out of the bathroom, Victor ran a bath for Maria Elena. She was dead tired, but grateful for the opportunity to get cleaned up and simply relax. For a long time she had no desire to get out of the tub; she just wanted the hot water to relax her sore body and clean away the psychological filth of her time at the Royal Residence. She was desperately hungry, which Victor sensed. He brought her a snack of bread and fruit, which she devoured while still sitting in the tub.
Once she finished eating Victor contemplated Maria Elena’s dirty hair, which was still dishonorably loose. Looking at his lover’s loose hair was a bizarre experience for him, because it had been many years since had he seen the unbraided hair of a woman he loved. When he was still in high school his future wife had her hair unbraided, but the day she graduated and formally became a woman her hair was properly done up, as was the hair of every other woman in the graduating class. He thought back to the moment he saw her at the graduation ceremony, no longer a high school girl but an adult…a woman who had made the transition to honorable citizen…and the woman he knew he was destined to marry. Since that ceremony he had never seen her hair loosened, because his wife was a proper Danubian who strongly believed in protocol.
Throughout his life, Victor’s prejudices about braided hair had been typical for any Danubian man. The only women he had seen with unbraided hair were foreigners, who had all kinds of weird customs not practiced in the Duchy. A lot had changed since he graduated from high school, especially the influx of huge numbers of foreign tourists walking around Danube City with their hair flowing loose in the wind. Loose hair now was a common sight, but still it set tourists apart from everyone else. Dishonorable… totally dishonorable… those foreigners.
And yet…seeing Maria Elena’s thick black hair loose around her wet shoulders gave Victor a strange idea. He was tempted to touch it…something he would not have dreamt of doing with his deceased wife. Maria Elena was a foreigner herself, so she really did not understand what a huge taboo it was in Danubian culture for a man to see a woman’s loose hair, let alone touch it. He cautiously reached out and felt a loose strand.
Maria Elena did not understand what Victor wanted. She remembered that she had not yet shampooed her hair and assumed that was what her lover wanted to do, help her clean her hair. She handed him a shampoo bottle. Victor took a deep breath and complied, putting some shampoo into his hands and working it into her hair. It was at totally surreal experience for him, something that probably no other Danubian man had ever done, certainly not one without a foreign partner.
By the time Maria Elena got out she had spent nearly 40 minutes sitting in hot water, which helped to somewhat soften her welts. Victor helped her out of the tub and assisted her as she dried off. He led her to his bed, hoping to continue the moment of intimacy, but as soon as she lay down she was asleep. He looked at her bare body, but remained fascinated at the thought of her loose hair. He took a strand in his hand, knowing that as soon as she got up the next morning Cecilia would restore her braids and that would be the end of the strange intimacy he had shared with her. She would go to court, come back later in the day, and then life would return to normal. But for him the memory would remain…the memory of doing something forbidden with his lover that probably no other man he knew had ever done or even thought about doing.
The next morning it was Pedro who woke up everyone in the house. He had to go to school, which meant that either Cecilia or Victor had to get up to serve him breakfast. Victor went downstairs to cook for the boy, because Cecilia needed to braid Maria Elena’s hair and Maria Elena needed to bandage Cecilia’s feet. No sooner were those two tasks accomplished than did Officer Vladik Dukov pass by in a police van to take the two women downtown to the Central Courthouse. Before Criminal # 101025 could return to her normal life, her collar from the Royal Residence would have to be removed and replaced with one from the Ministry of Justice.
Victor stayed behind with Pedro. Although it no longer was a secret that he and Maria Elena were lovers, he saw no point in sharing that detail with the world by showing up wearing a Church collar in what was likely to be a very public hearing. Instead he would finish sending Pedro off to school and simply go to his office. As much as he wanted to be present to see Maria Elena officially returned to the Ministry of Justice, he knew that the public scandal would be bad enough as it was and for the Prime Minister’s brother to be seen at the Courthouse wearing a collar was not something the public or the government needed.
A few minutes later Vladik delivered his passengers to the Central Courthouse. The steps where totally covered with people: most of whom were family members, friends, and former co-workers of the 30 servants who were to be transferred back to the Ministry of Justice that morning. The criminals had not been in contact with their families since their internment in the Royal Residence, so the relatives were desperate to find out what had happened to them. The throng entirely filled the steps and part of the street below, with only a narrow passage down the middle to allow police officials and criminals to pass.
Maria Elena was not surprised to see her classmate Carmen and several other norteamericanos standing among the crowd, their bare bodies standing out among the mostly clothed throng of people on the steps.
Just as Vladik drove up to the Central Courthouse, five Spokespersons led 30 naked criminals out of the Central Police Station and across the Plaza. The Spokespersons walked in single file, each leading his or her respective clients. Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna was the fourth in the group, because the Spokespersons had organized their walk according to seniority.
The Priestess who had organized the previous day’s seizure of the servants followed the Spokespersons, accompanied by several other Clergy members. As she walked in her long black dress, she looked more severe than ever: the no-nonsense woman who had taken on the Royal Family and won.
Kim signaled to Maria Elena and Cecilia that they needed to fall in behind her and march with the other criminals into the Courthouse. They joined the line of naked clients and followed her up the steps and through the main door. The criminals and their Spokespersons passed through another set of doors that led into the main trial chamber. The Spokespersons then stood off to one side, while the criminals knelt in formation in front of the judges who made up the nation’s Supreme Judicial Tribunal. The audience filed in next, quickly filling the seats off to the side of the chamber. Parents and employers were given priority for seating, but a few seats in the back remained open for friends and co-workers. Maria Elena and Cecilia noticed that Carmen and one other classmate had managed to get seats near the wall. The majority of the crowd would have to remain outside, but the police had rigged up some speakers to keep the people waiting on the steps abreast of what was going on inside the courtroom.
The spectators, Spokespersons, and police officers immediately stood at attention and saluted, while the criminals and people performing Public Penance knelt forward and placed their heads on the ground. The Supreme Court Justices had entered the room and took their seats at the bench. Cecilia, kneeling naked with a group of criminals, felt very awkward as she placed her head on the floor. According to protocol, her knees were slightly spread and she arched her back, completely exposing her bottom and vulva to everyone standing behind her. The position had forced open her labia. A slight breeze blowing through the courtroom felt cold as it touched the wetness of her vagina, making her very aware just how exposed she really was. A part of her that was reserved only for Jason now was on display to hundreds of spectators. She tried to force her mind off her embarrassment, telling herself that she was only one of 20 naked women kneeling in the same position, but that did not help her at the moment.
Cecilia and Maria Elena had expected a lengthy legal procedure, perhaps a reading of names or some other form of official protocol. However, as soon as the room was silent the Chief Justice called out:
“Minister of Justice Hóshtukt! Are you present in this courtroom?”
“Yes Chief Justice, I am present!”
“Grand Duke Mídchatk XXIX! Are you present in this courtroom?”
“Yes Chief Justice, I am present!”
“Very well. Please step forward!”
The Chief Justice addressed the kneeling criminals next:
“You will kneel upright for the remainder of this hearing. Remember your Paths in Life as criminals and do not speak unless spoken to, and do not move until directed.”
Silently the group of criminals knelt upright. Cecilia whispered the translation to Maria Elena, who followed the others.
Maria Elena was curious to see the Grand Duke. He was wearing simple Royal Attire: an embroidered suit from the late 1700’s and a tri-corner hat of the style that had been popular in Europe before the French Revolution. He did not have his cape and crown, which would have constituted full Royal Attire. He appeared very subdued, in spite of the fact that, unlike his wife, he was not being forced to perform Public Penance.
The Grand Duke did something that at the moment did not mean anything to Maria Elena and Cecilia, but was very significant in the eyes of the Danubian people. When he approached the Chief Justice, he took off his hat. Throughout Danubia’s history, no King or Grand Duke had ever taken off his hat before a civilian official. The Danubian sovereign was very aware of the break in protocol and nervously held the hat in his hands as he stood before the bench. The Chief Justice did not display any reaction, because he had been forewarned by the Prime Minister of the upcoming change in the role of the nation’s Royal Family. However, the audience stared at their sovereign’s bare head with wide eyes.
In a barely audible whisper Cecilia translated the remainder of the hearing into Maria Elena’s ear…
“Grand Duke. This Court is honored by your presence. Our understanding is that you wish to address a matter of concern to your household and to the Ministry of Justice. Is that true, Grand Duke?”
“Yes Chief Justice. What you have said is true. I have come before you to address the issue of the criminals currently serving in my personal residence as Royal Servants.”
“Yes, Grand Duke? How do you wish to address the issue of your servants?”
“Chief Justice, the Royal Family wishes to release control of all criminals currently assigned to serve in the Royal Residence. We request that this Court reassign formal custody of all the criminals kneeling before you, specifically that they be returned to the custody of the Ministry of Justice and cared for as stipulated by the National Constitution of the Republic of Danubia and the National Code of Criminal Justice. The Royal Family wishes to formally declare that these criminals have no further obligation to myself or to any other member of the Royal Family.”
“May I ask why you are requesting the reassignment of your servants, Grand Duke?”
The Grand Duke took a deep breath.
“There is legislation pending in the National Parliament that will revise the role of the Royal Family and assure that our status meets the needs of modern society. One of those changes will be that everyone working in the Royal Residence will be a salaried public employee instead of a criminal servant. I have agreed that the change is appropriate for both the needs of the Royal Family and the needs of the Danubian Republic. The position of criminal servant will be abolished, and therefore it is inappropriate to retain such servants on any property being utilized by the Royal Family.”
“Very well, Grand Duke. To make sure this Court and the nation understands exactly what you wish to do, I shall repeat my understanding of your desire for the Royal Servants. Your wish is for them to be reassigned to the Ministry of Justice and for them to permanently leave your service. Is that correct, Grand Duke?”
“That is correct, Chief Justice. The Royal Family is requesting they permanently be reassigned.”
“Minister of Justice Hóshtukt! Does your Ministry agree to accept custody of the criminals currently assigned as servants to the Royal Family?”
“Yes, Chief Justice. The Ministry of Justice accepts reassignment of the Royal Servants and will assume custody of them as ordinary criminals.”
“What will be the condition of their reassignment, Minister of Justice?”
“Each criminal’s original sentence will be reinstated. Each criminal will return to service for the Ministry under the direction of their former Spokesperson. The Grand Duke and I reached that agreement last night. However, I will request one change in the status of these criminals from this Court.”
“Yes, Minister of Justice? What is that change?”
“I have determined that the criminals have proven themselves trustworthy enough to be assigned collars with brass rings. I wish to make that request to this Court.”
“This Court grants your request, Minister of Justice. If you believe these criminals have earned the privilege of wearing the brass ring, then this Court will comply with your desire.”
“Thank you, Chief Justice.”
The Chief Justice then turned his attention to the Grand Duke.
“Grand Duke, this Court has granted your request and the former servants of the Royal Residence are reassigned as of this moment. This Court again thanks you for your presence and your service to the nation. If you wish to depart from this courtroom, you are free to do so.”
The Grand Duke then did something else totally unheard of from a Danubian sovereign, he saluted the Chief Justice, who stood and saluted back. Again the crowd looked at him with bewildered expressions, because he had just shown himself as a subordinate to a civilian official. Ignoring the stares of his audience, he calmly put on his hat, did a sharp about-face, and walked to the back of the room.
Not many people in the courtroom had yet noticed, but waiting for the Grand Duke was his father-in-law, the nation’s Prime Minister. The two men left the courtroom and walked down the steps of the Central Courthouse, stepping between the waiting crowd and descending to the Central Plaza. From there they walked to the National Parliament Building. The Grand Duke was thoroughly depressed and what little fight he had in him was gone. The events over the past 24 hours had left him totally demoralized, something that Vladim Dukov planned to exploit as much as possible. Within two hours the Sovereign would address Parliament, speaking on behalf of passing reforms that would formally strip him of his remaining power.
Once the Grand Duke departed, the only part of the reassignment hearing remaining was to re-collar the 30 former Royal Servants with Ministry of Justice collars. The fancy collars of the Royal Family needed to be taken off each criminal’s neck, to be replaced with the drab collars used by the Ministry of Justice. Maria Elena noticed a definite change of mood among her fellow servants now that the collar technician had come out with the collar extractor and a cart carrying 30 new collars with brass rings. Already the criminals had been formally transferred but, there was an old Danubian saying that went:
“Dreams are what’s in your head; reality is what’s around your neck.”
The Chief Justice felt no need to delay. Even as the collar technician was still getting set up, the judge ordered the first Spokesman to step forward with the four criminals assigned to him. The criminals immediately stood up, moved forward with their custodian, and resumed kneeling. A moment later the technician ordered the first of the criminals to come forward and kneel at a sturdy metal post with handles that was about a meter high. The criminal grabbed the handles and remained still as the technician lowered a scary-looking device that looked like a huge pair of pliers over her head. The official mounted the collar extractor on a loop at the top of the post and with several clamps attached it around the Royal House collar. A moment later there was a sharp metallic clank and the distinct sound of breaking metal. The latch of the Royal House collar was snapped and a second later it was off the criminal’s neck. The technician repeated the extraction with the other three criminals of the first group. Then he set the extractor aside and ordered the first criminal to resume her position at the post. He lowered a second device over her head, the implement that would replace her broken Royal House collar with one from the Ministry of Justice.
The young woman was still a criminal, but she was very happy about the change. Maybe she was not completely free, but she certainly would have a lot more liberty than she had experienced any time over the past year. She would walk out on the street, go to work, eat when she wanted, and sleep in her own bed. More important than anything else, she would have the freedom to talk. For a person who had just endured what she had to face under Grand Duchess Anyia…that was enough for the time being.
Once the first group of criminals was re-collared, their Spokesman took them out of the courtroom. Unlike the hearing that formally ended a criminal’s sentence, there would be no formal ceremony because the sentences were not ending or being reduced. The former Royal Servants may have felt elated that they would be returning to their families and their normal lives, but from the point of view of the court a reassignment was not the same thing as a release, and thus nothing to celebrate.
Because she lacked seniority, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna’s group was the fourth out of five to be re-collared. Like her companions, Maria Elena was hugely relieved once the collar of the Royal Family was off her neck. Once the Ministry of Justice collar had replaced it, she knew that she was wearing the proof that Grand Duchess Anyia had no further claim on her.
As soon as the last of her group was re-collared, Kim immediately led her seven foreign clients and Cecilia out of the courtroom and down the steps outside. There were joyous reunions between the criminals and their various friends, host families, and co-workers. Maria Elena was cheerfully greeted by Carmen and the other classmates, who whisked her off to the university to celebrate her return. The six other clients disappeared as well, leaving Kim and Cecilia standing alone on the stairs.
Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna invited Cecilia to have lunch at a café near the Central Police Station before returning to work in her office. As they returned to the police headquarters, the two women noticed that the building was extremely quiet. They walked past the building’s cafeteria and saw that it was completely packed with police officers and civilian employees, all crowded around a large television set. The normal programming had been canceled, replaced with live coverage of the nation’s Parliament. Across the bottom of the screen were the words:
Válkt Dukókt Régis trebét dék Legítkci eta Deréchekti Korónkti
Translated into English the words meant: "Royal Grand Duke renounces the Rights and Powers of the Crown".
Kim and Cecilia could tell the Danubians were mystified at the event unfolding on television. Why would the Grand Duke go to Parliament and surrender all his formal powers? It didn’t make any sense, but obviously it was what the Sovereign wanted, because he was the one who had introduced the legislation. Grand Dukes up until that moment had the right to introduce legislation, but that was a power they rarely had exercised. There was huge irony that the Grand Duke had formally introduced a bill that, if passed, would be the last legislation ever submitted by a member of the Royal Family.
Parts of the Grand Duke’s speech were replayed as the two women watched with the crowd of Danubians. The Grand Duke had a stricken look on his face as he rambled on about the need for the Danubian Royal family to change its role to adapt to the needs of modern society. Kim remembered that had been the same line he had spoken when he was in court returning the Royal Servants to the Ministry of Justice. She guessed those words must have come from the Duke’s father-in-law, a statement that would spare the Royal Family from having to admit the real reason they were being forced to surrender their powers.
“The needs of modern society”…what total bullshit, thought Kim to herself. It was because of Anyia that the Grand Duke was forced to give up all of his privileges. Kim felt very sorry for him at that moment, because he was being forced to surrender not only his Constitutional authority, but that of all the future Grand Dukes who would come after him. The Spokeswoman sympathized with him because he really had not done anything. His only crime was not to make a stronger effort to control his wife’s excesses, but Vladim Dukov was convinced that failure constituted dereliction of duty. Kim understood the Grand Duke’s appearance in front of Parliament was to be his punishment for that failure. It turned out the punishment would be severe indeed, much more severe than it sounded when Dukov first mentioned it. The Sovereign had been forced to stand before the Legislature and ask to be permanently stripped of everything that had been passed down to him by his forbearers.
The Danubians were not so naïve to think that the Grand Duke would surrender all of his privileges if something unknown to the public had not forced him to do so. The fact that Vladim Dukov was standing right behind him, as though to prod him forward, offered a small clue that the surrender of Royal Privileges was coerced. The Duke’s forlorn expression offered another clue, as did the expression of the Prime Minister. Vladim Dukov seemed very different from what the public was used to: he appeared cold, hardened, and ruthlessly determined as he waited for his son-in-law to finish his speech.
There was no question the legislation would pass, because the Grand Duke was the one who had introduced it. However, among the deputies there was endless chatter why the Grand Duke had requested such a radical reduction in his status. Some of the deputies took him at his word; that the change was needed to meet the needs of modern society. Most of the deputies knew better. They realized that there must have been a hidden scandal that had caused the Grand Duke to relinquish his privileges. The deputies also realized that Vladim Dukov must have known what the scandal was. The more perceptive deputies also understood that whatever had caused the Duke to present the legislation, it probably was something better left as a secret.
Kim and Cecilia could tell that most of the cops and Ministry employees surrounding them in the cafeteria were deeply troubled by what the Grand Duke was doing, because he remained a popular figure in Danubian society. Certainly no one wished him any harm or embarrassment, nor did anyone really want the Royal Family to lose any more of its influence. The room was full of discussion why the Grand Duke had made such a grave decision.
As they listened to the arguments and speculation about what had happened to the Grand Duke, Kim and Cecilia felt very guilty. They did not have to speculate, because they knew the awful truth. As much as they wanted to jump into the conversation and correct all the mistaken guesses circulating around the room, they didn’t dare do so.
Many of the women in the cafeteria expressed concern over Grand Duchess Anyia. She had not been seen with the Grand Duke, which was unusual for a public appearance. She was so pretty and poised, such a wonderful partner for the nation’s Sovereign. Wherever he went, she was at his side, always displaying a new outfit. Already the women missed her fashionable clothes…
Suddenly Kim realized something important from what she overheard. Grand Duchess Anyia was just starting to have an impact on Danubian society with her constant display of new and expensive clothing. That was behavior the Danubian public had not seen before and it was a change that many of the nation’s women, especially the younger ones, found fascinating. Danubia always had been one country where people did not waste a large portion of their personal incomes on fashion, which the Danubian Church condemned as “the evil worship of cloth”. Was it possible that, if left unchecked long enough, Anyia Dukov might have transformed that part of Danubian culture?
Maria Elena’s returned to Victor’s house with the norteamericanos who wore collars in protest of her sentencing, plus a few others who had not participated in the collaring but still wanted to celebrate her reassignment. They accompanied her to the house, hugged her goodbye, and departed back in the direction of the university. Victor and Maria Elena hugged each other as they were reunited. The previous night she had been too exhausted to really care what was going on, but now, with the Ministry of Justice collar on her neck and after having spent an afternoon with her classmates, she truly felt that she was home.
Victor and Cecilia talked to Maria Elena about what had gone on that day; namely that the Grand Duke had surrendered most of his Royal Powers and requested that all Royal Property be transferred to the Interior Ministry. Victor then told the two women that he wanted pray and give thanks to the Ancients that Maria Elena had safely returned. They went out into the back yard and under the stars they prayed, with Victor leading the prayers.
Later Maria Elena and Victor returned to his bedroom. For a long time she lay quiet while he studied the fading welts and bruises that continued to cover her body. He touched her tenderly. She had expected that, after the rough treatment at the hands of Anyia’s assistant, she would be afraid of being touched. However, her love for Victor far overwhelmed the trauma she had just endured, and she longed to feel his hands on her body again. Gradually she took control and got him to lie on his stomach. She massaged him, rolled him over, and worked him into an erection. When he tried to sit up and take her, she pressed her hand on his chest to silently command him to lie back down. She continued to work him into an erotic frenzy with her touches, but let him know that she was the one who would control their love-making that night. Finally she straddled him and lowered herself over his very hard penis. She gently rocked back and forth as he pumped semen into her. He climaxed and slowly went limp as she continued to straddle him.
Maria Elena took longer to climax, but finally she did have an orgasm. It was extremely important to her…because she felt that until she had made love with Victor, she would not truly have escaped the torment she had endured in the Royal Residence. The orgasm that night might not have been one of her best, but at least she had it.
The couple fell asleep in each other’s arms. As she drifted off to sleep, Maria Elena finally felt that she truly had returned home…returned to the place where she belonged.
Chapter 24 – Anyia’s Journey
Upon arriving at the first church along the route Anyia had to walk over the next three days, the Clergy allowed her to rest, eat, and relieve herself. Then they led her to a stone platform that had chains with cuffs suspended over it. They placed her wrists in the cuffs and immobilized her with her hands over her head. Anyia started to cry, because she thought she was about to be whipped. However, the Clergy members only wanted to bathe her. They covered her in soap and then rinsed her off with very cold water. The Priestess then unbraided Anyia’s hair and shampooed it. She ran a comb through the young woman’s hair and announced that it would remain unbraided.
“If you can demonstrate to me that you understand the meaning of your experience over the next three days, I will re-braid your hair before you assume the collar. You need to prove yourself, however. To have your hair braided will be a privilege to be earned, not a right to expect. Do you understand me, Anyia Dukov?”
The Priests splashed her with several buckets of frigid water and then left her to shiver until the cool morning breeze had completely dried her. During her three-day walk she would be bathed in the same manner at sunrise and sunset. She was not allowed to touch her own body so she could not bathe herself. She could not dry herself with her own hands; she had to wait for the Creator to dry her body with the wind. The frigid water and being left to shiver was to remind her how exposed she was; her bare body presented to the mercy of the elements of the Realm of the Living.
Once she was completely dry, the Clergy members unchained Anyia and led her into the church. She knelt in the proper position of Penance, with her hands placed on the ground in front of her, her head touching the floor, her knees spread and her back properly arched. She was the Grand Duchess, but like any criminal or servant, she could feel the cool air blowing against her exposed vulva and sphincter. Her bottom still had some belt-marks remaining from the punishment her mother had given her the day before and five sets of welts crossed her thighs. She was humbled, with nothing to set her apart from anyone else who was beginning Public Penance. Her hair fell dishonorably around her face, but she was grateful for that. Her eyes were covered and her view of the world concealed.
The Priestess prayed, first in silence and then with a prayer in Archaic Danubian. She ordered Anyia to kneel upright and conversed with her, asking her about some of the mundane details of her life before she became Grand Duchess. The questions may have seemed trivial, but the Priestess was determined to completely understand the young woman in front of her, and often one can gain more insight from a trivial interest than from a major event. The conversation drifted to a friend that Anyia had in high school, an American exchange student called Jennifer Thompson. As she talked, Anyia was able to forget about the present and go back in time about five years in her life.
Jennifer was a year older than Anyia. Her school year abroad started very badly; within a month she had earned the enmity of the school’s teachers by behaving like she would in the US, doing things such as skipping classes and smoking in public. About six weeks after classes started, Jennifer was caught smoking in a park and brought by the police to her school. The director was furious with both her and her counselor and ordered the girl to be switched in the gymnasium in front of 400 classmates. She was stripped, ordered to lie over a chair, and given the maximum punishment a student could receive, which was 25 strokes.
Jennifer’s behavior calmed down after she was switched, but she always fascinated Anyia. The most important detail was her bright red hair. Anyia had never seen a girl with red hair before…not only red on her head but also thick red curls covering her vagina. The American’s hair obsessed Anyia during the entire year they were together in school. Jennifer was a senior, so when her class graduated she had to have her hair braided for the final ceremony. Anyia was the one who braided Jennifer’s hair and was elated to finally have the chance to touch it, comb it, and shampoo it. However, Anyia admitted that what she really wanted to do was to run her fingers through the thick red curls covering her friend’s vulva. She felt horribly ashamed of her thoughts because of the taboo Danubians had about people of the same sex touching each other.
Jennifer spent a second year in Danubia attending classes at the National University before she returned to the United States. That was the year Vladim Dukov campaigned to become Prime Minister and Anyia’s romantic attentions became focused on the sons of her father’s political associates. Jennifer pursued her collage classes while Anyia finished high school, so the two friends saw very little of each other. Although they now were separated, Anyia continued to think about Jennifer and longed to be with her and see her naked. However, during the few times they saw each other the two young women had no reason to take off their clothing and Anyia never saw Jennifer in the nude after graduation.
Anyia admitted that watching Jennifer’s punishment always fascinated her. She remembered the entire incident in loving detail: Jennifer’s terrified teary face, her lovely body, the cruel red switch marks on her white skin, and the girl’s screams…yes, Anyia remembered all of it. She wished she could have been Counselor Tolkiv, the prim imposing teacher who struck Jennifer and admonished her. Anyia spent endless hours masturbating over the incident and over the memory of Jennifer’s punished bottom. Each time she was about to climax, she imagined herself whipping Jennifer.
The Priestess thought about Anyia’s confession. Could it be that Jennifer’s switching was an important event in Anyia’s life, a single incident that fired up her imagination? That would make sense, because Anyia was fascinated with collecting foreigners, pushing them into servitude, and physically punishing them…Could it be that her real desire dated back to her unfulfilled fantasy of touching and punishing her American classmate?
A few minutes later the Priestess ordered the Grand Duchess to lie on a mat that had been placed on the floor of the church. The Clergy member stripped off her dress, hung it on a hook on the wall, and lay on a mat next to Anyia. Two Priests entered the room and also stripped off their robes. They set their mats a few meters away from the women and promptly fell asleep.
Anyia was exhausted but could not fall asleep for several minutes. She studied the mosaic on the church ceiling, which she guessed must have been completed in the late 1700’s, judging by its style. The topic of the artwork was a common religious theme popular at the time; a griffin battling a ball of fire in a darkened sky. Surrounding the main battle were black-robed winged figures that were immensely old. The figures were praying and looking at the battle with concern. The image was a representation of the time-old fight between the Creator and the Destroyer, with the Ancients offering up their prayers to help the Creator win. For several centuries Danubian artists had used mythical animals to represent the Creator in such works of art, although that practice was dropped in the mid-1800s.
Anyia’s thoughts returned to school and specifically to her friend Jennifer. She hadn’t thought about Jennifer for a long time, because her father already was Prime Minister by the time Jennifer left Danubia. Anyia had become so different since that time in high school…or had she? Maybe she was indeed the same person, but one that had been allowed to develop her fantasies to their extreme. Not many people have the chance to do that. Everyone has fantasies, but maybe it is just as well that most people cannot realize them, because to have unlimited access to one’s fantasies was to eventually to become corrupted and fall into the trap Anyia Dukov had fallen into.
For the first time in her life the young woman regretted that she had become the Grand Duchess. She wished she could have been a simpler person, leading a normal life…and not becoming the terror and the degenerate she had turned into. To be simple…like her brother, or her former housemate Kimberly Lee, or even like her father…
Her father…Anyia realized how superior her father was to her, the extent to which he was indeed a better person. Her father was Prime Minister, but the position had not corrupted him. He was still the same person he had been before he was elected. Unlike his daughter, whatever fantasies he had were left in the back of his mind. His duty as Prime Minister was to serve the nation, not to have the nation indulge him.
Anyia thought to herself: that was my duty too, but I failed. I could have done so much good with my title, and all I did was cause trouble. Now I have to start over. I’ve wasted so much and now I have to see how I can make up for that.
Anyia knew that she would never again wear a crown. The crown traditionally worn by Grand Duchesses was in storage and would remain there until her successor was coroneted. The one she had bought from Monaco no longer existed. Undoubtedly her father would have its jewels appraised and then exchange them for gold ingots for the National Treasury. It was equally likely he would attempt to sell off her expensive collection of clothing. Perhaps Kimberly Lee or Cecilia Sanchez would be tasked with posting the items to one of those Internet auction sites.
Anyia cringed at the thought of having her clothing and jewelry auctioned, but she knew how her father thought about such matters. He felt that it was his duty to the nation to attempt to recover as much of the money his daughter had spent as possible. There was no way he could come close to recovering the total amount she had wasted, but he would be determined to do what he could. Every time he could purchase an ingot and return it to the National Treasury was a small redemption for his own dishonor for having raised such a daughter.
As she lay on her mat staring at a mosaic on the ceiling, Anyia continued to think about her father. At first she resented him for being such a miser, for having no appreciation for the good things life had to offer. However, there was no question that if there was any man in Danubia who met the country’s definition of honor, it was Vladim Dukov. Anyia realized that her father had not changed at all when he became Prime Minister. He was the same man with the same outlook on life; a firm belief that the Creator had placed him in the Realm of the Living to serve. Being a collared criminal, or a Spokesman, or Prime Minister made no difference to him. Each position for Vladim Dukov was simply a form of service to the Creator and his fellow Danubians with differing demands and expectations.
Anyia knew that her father was not a martyr. He did not make unrealistic personal sacrifices, nor did he expect anything unrealistic from others. He disapproved of the writings and beliefs of people such as St. Augustine and Gandhi because he felt their expectations of people were cruel and unreasonable. He enjoyed a good meal or a good glass of wine or a comfortable bed as much as anyone else. However, he remained a simple man with simple needs. He wanted only enough from the material world for him and his family to be healthy and comfortable. To have anything more than that made no sense to him, because to have anything more would mean it had to be denied to someone else. His reasoning was that the Creator had given him a certain level of well-being, something that everyone in Danubia deserved. To want or expect anything beyond that would be dishonorable.
Anyia was just beginning to understand why her father was so appalled by her lifestyle. His disapproval went beyond how she treated her servants or even her willingness to betray Danubia. He could not understand her insatiable quest for more…more servants…more dresses…more adoration. She was living in a nice house with a husband who loved her and was well-liked by the public: why wasn’t that enough? Indeed…why wasn’t that enough? That was one of the questions she would have to answer over the next several days.
Anyia’s next night was not a night of reflection, but a night of discomfort. The weather had changed and there was a cold drizzle falling during the entire walk. She shivered as the cold water dripped down her bare skin and her feet sloshed through muddy puddles. The Priestess shivered as well, but suffering in such a manner was part of her profession, something to be withstood stoically.
Although Anyia was not able to think about much except being cold, wet, and muddy, the walk of the second night did help clear her mind. It is very hard to think about one’s past or the deeper issues in life when one is exposed and shivering on a cold wet dark country road. When daylight came and Anyia saw the second church along her path looming in the distance, she felt deep gratitude toward the Creator for having made it through her second night of her journey. There would be just one more night, and then she would arrive at the Temple of the Ancients.
After sleeping through the morning hours, Anyia and the Priestess spent the second afternoon of her journey talking in a quiet park near a small stream. The weather was clearing, but everything was still very wet and the park was completely deserted. It was a perfect setting for a quiet conversation, even though Anyia’s uncovered body was shivering in the damp air.
“You must learn to withstand the weather, Anyia Dukov. Your Path in Life is to forsake all clothing, and you must train your body to accept the consequences of your actions.”
The Clergywoman spent much of the second day lecturing her ward about the futility of owning too much of the material world. She berated Anyia about the impact that her materialism had on the country and everyone surrounding her. She understood that the Grand Duchess was aware of the evil she had committed against her servants and there was no point wasting her time belaboring something she already knew. The big issue was not Anyia’s cruelty, but her greed and her insatiable desire for more things and more servants. The Priestess believed that was the root of the Grand Duchess’s problem… greed and an extreme feeling of entitlement.
The two women sat in silence for a while as the sky continued to clear. Finally the sun came out and heated the air. Anyia was very grateful to feel it shining on her exposed body. Abruptly the Priestess changed the subject by taking a folded newspaper article out of a folder she was carrying. It was a front-page article of that morning’s paper.
“You are not the only one who must atone for your actions, Anyia Dukov.”
Anyia saw a picture of her husband standing at the Prime Minister’s podium in the National Parliament, with her father standing right behind him. She read the following:
Royal Grand Duke renounces the Rights and Powers of the Crown
The Royal Grand Duke of the Republic of Danubia formally introduced legislation in the National Parliament that requested the revocation of most Royal powers and privileges yesterday morning…
Anyia read several paragraphs and started crying.
“He shouldn’t have had to do that, Priestess. It was my fault…I was the one who…I mean, he didn’t do anything…”
“Anyia Dukov, the Creator has determined that your husband must sacrifice what is most dear to him, just as you must sacrifice.”
“I…I’ve destroyed him…and the Royal Family…I’ve ruined everything…”
“I don’t think that is true, Anyia Dukov. It was the proper time…that’s all. The time of the Royal Family has passed, and you and your descendents must make your way in the Realm of the Living just like anyone else. The change was necessary. Necessary and predestined.”
Anyia forced herself to read the rest of the article. The Priestess continued:
“You are still the Grand Duchess, and your husband is still the Grand Duke, even if your role is now only ceremonial. You still have your duties to the nation. You still have your husband and your marriage, and eventually you will have your children. You do have a Path in Life, Anyia Dukov.”
“Yes, Priestess…I suppose that’s true. But I can’t see how my husband is going to forgive me for what I did to him.”
“Both of you will have to come to terms with what has happened. It won’t be as hard as you think, Anyia Dukov.”
When the sun set that evening, Anyia had to endure another frigid bath before the prayers that would precede the final part of her journey. The Priestess had one surprise for the Grand Duchess: she told Anyia that she needed to have her hair properly braided before leaving the Church. Anyia was elated at having that part of her life return to normal. It was something small, and yet for her very significant, because she understood that she had already passed through the worst part of her personal abyss.
The final part of Anyia’s journey took her through Danube City. The two women entered the outskirts around 9:00 pm, just as most people were settling down in their houses. For several hours Anyia and the Priestess walked through the deserted streets of the city’s suburbs. They emerged into the historical business district and approached the Old City Wall. Their trip led them right though the city’s main plaza and past the National Parliament Building. By the time they approached the Temple of the Ancients, the sky was starting to lighten in the east.
Anyia was expecting to be collared in an elaborate ceremony, probably with Grand Prophet # 4 present along other members of the Church hierarchy. After-all, this was a momentous moment in the career of the Priestess and the history of the Danubian Church, the collaring of the nation’s Grand Duchess.
The Priestess knew her ward well-enough to understand that she expected her to make a big deal out of her collaring. It was precisely because of that anticipation that she decided that Anyia’s collaring would be very simple. Upon arriving at the Temple, the Priestess led the Grand Duchess to the back of the building, to the spot where the fire-pit was located. She ordered the young woman to stand still while she put her hands around her throat to measure her neck size. She wrote the measurement on a small piece of paper and handed it to a Temple attendant.
Anyia looked around, finding it hard to believe that no one else was present. She was deeply disappointed.
“Anyia Dukov, wearing the collar is an agreement between you and the Creator. In the presence of the Creator you are not any more significant than anyone else.”
Anyia struggled to answer: “Yes, Priestess.”
The attendant returned with a Temple collar. The Priestess placed the collar in Anyia’s hands and told her to kneel.
“Take a look at this collar, Anyia Dukov. Tell me what you notice about it. Is it any different than a collar that we normally issue?”
Anyia turned the collar over in her hands. It had the typical smooth appearance of a collar issued by the Temple. At first she thought it was just an ordinary collar, but then she noticed that…there was no hole for a key. Her heart skipped a beat, because she realized there was no way to unlock the collar once it was on her neck.
“I…there’s no keyhole, Priestess.”
“That is correct, Anyia Dukov. This is a permanent collar. It will remain with you for the rest of your natural life. Once it is on your neck, you will never take it off.”
Anyia started trembling.
“A condition of this collar is that you will never discuss with anyone in the Realm of the Living why you are wearing it. Your Penance is between you and the Creator. Do you understand me, Anyia Dukov?”
Anyia was still scared, but the Priestess’s last words greatly put her at ease. She actually would be prohibited from ever talking about the actions that had led her to the Temple, which meant that she never would have to explain herself to anyone. No journalist could question her; no one could speculate about why she was doing what she was doing. By taking the collar, Anyia would free herself from her past and the consequences of what she had done over the past several years. She knew that was the only way she could hope to redeem herself.
The Priestess recited the basic protocol that she would have to follow once the collar was on her neck. She would have to properly kneel every time she spoke to any public employee or Church official and she would officially become property of the Danubian Church, with the Priestess as her assigned custodian.
Just as the sun was rising, the Priestess finished her recital of the protocol. She placed her hands on Anyia’s shoulders. After a short prayer she asked Anyia if she was ready to accept the collar.
“Yes, Priestess. The collar is my Path in Life and I accept it.”
“Very well, Anyia Dukov.”
The attendant handed the Priestess a special set of clamps specifically for permanent collars. Anyia felt the metal surround her neck. The Priestess placed a small flat piece of wood under the open latch of the collar to make sure her skin would not be pinched when the device was closed. She nodded at the attendant, who squeezed the clamps. The collar clicked shut and the Priestess removed the wood.
“Stand up, Anyia Dukov.”
Anyia stood up.
“The Church will always refer to you Anyia Dukov, because to us, that is who you are. However, when you leave this Temple, the world will see you as the Grand Duchess. You will serve; both the Church as Anyia Dukov and the nation as the Grand Duchess.”
“I will summon your father and your husband to escort you from the Temple. My understanding is that you are to perform a service for the public today.”
Anyia discovered that the Temple had an underground pool and bathing area beneath the main floor. Normally the area was off-limits to anyone other than Clergy members and attendants, but the Priestess decided that Anyia should be properly cleaned up before leaving the Temple. She ordered a male attendant to take Anyia downstairs and bathe her. She also decided that because the Grand Duchess was about to make her first public appearance after being collared, it would be important that she be properly shaved.
Anyia expected another frigid bath, but the pool was fed by a natural hot spring that had been the reason that location was chosen for the Temple 3,000 years before. While the attendant watched, the Grand Duchess gratefully immersed herself in the hot water and allowed the soreness from all that walking to wash away. When the attendant called her attention, Anyia got out of the water and knelt. The attendant led her to a wash room and told her to stand with her hands behind her head. He shaved her armpits with an old-fashion straight-edge razor before turning his attention to her vulva. He lathered her with soap and quickly scraped away the final vestige of any modesty. He ordered her to get on her knees and stretch forward so he could shave the small amount of hair remaining on her backside. She felt his fingers spreading her labia and moving her skin so he could remove everything. Whenever the Grand Duchess knelt, everyone present would have an unimpeded view of her vulva and sphincter. Once she was properly shaven, the attendant ordered her to return to the pool.
A few minutes later the Anyia’s father and husband showed up at the Temple to retrieve her. They were initially surprised that the Grand Duchess already was collared and that the ceremony had not been made public. However, the Priestess explained that Anyia’s collaring was between her and the Creator and that there was no purpose in making that into a public spectacle. The Priestess then told the two men what she had told Anyia; that she was strictly prohibited from ever talking about why she had been collared.
The Priestess then sent for Anyia. She was freshly bathed and shaven and naked as a person possibly could be, with the pale skin of her recently shaved vulva contrasting with her tanned body and highlighting its exposure. It was obvious her personality was deeply changed, just by looking at her. She was very quiet and seemed to be withdrawn. The Grand Duke and the Prime Minister realized that she was in no mood to converse about anything, so as they escorted her from the Temple they left her alone with her thoughts. The Grand Duchess was grateful for the few moments of silence.
Once on the street the group was escorted by two cops as they walked to the Parliament Building. Anyia quietly followed her father and her husband, trying to ignore the shocked expressions of passers-by. She knew that the entire nation would have their shock later that day, because she had to attend a public event dedicating Danube City’s new power plant. As the Grand Duchess, she would be the most important person at the ceremony, which would be televised. All of Danubia would see her exposed body on their television sets that evening. If it was a slow news day, it was very likely the fact Danubia’s Grand Duchess was publicly naked would make international news.
Anyia cringed as she entered the Parliament building. As her father led her and her husband to his office, dozens of deputies and staff members saw her naked body. She noticed most of her spectators cast glances not only at her attractive figure, but also at her collar. She felt a small relief as she entered the Prime Minister’s office, but she knew the relative privacy would be only momentary. She also knew that, at that very moment, the people who had seen her were telling their co-workers about having seen the Grand Duchess wearing a Church collar…and not just an ordinary Penance collar, but a lifetime collar.
Dukov’s receptionist let the group into the back office, where a lawyer from the Interior Ministry already was waiting. Dukov took his place behind his desk, while the Royal Couple and the lawyer stood together. As soon as the Prime Minister was still, the Grand Duke and the lawyer saluted and the Grand Duchess went to her knees. Vladim saluted back, ordered Anyia to rise, and ordered his guests to take seats.
“You will understand that, as salaried employees of the National Parks Service, you will need to review and sign contracts to continue performing your duties to the nation. The Minister of the Interior has prepared contracts for both of you. Please review them, and if you find the conditions acceptable, you will sign.”
The Royal Couple followed the Prime Minister’s order to read their contracts. The positions of Grand Duke and Grand Duchess were described as “historical ceremonial performance”, a term that typically was used for any public employee paid to perform historical re-enactment on properties owned by the National Park Service. The contract outlined health benefits, a salary, specific duties, and also included causes for dismissal and grievance procedures. One major difference from an ordinary contract was that the agreement stipulated that the Royal Couple had to reside at the Royal Residence and perform their duties on a 24-hour basis. Another major difference was that the position was semi-hereditary, that if at all possible any new Grand Duke should be a direct descendent of the previous Grand Duke, as long as that person was qualified to hold the position. In the case of breach of contract by the current Royal Couple, the Interior Minister had the right to dismiss them. In such a case, all direct descendants of King Vladik the Defender would be eligible to apply for the position of Grand Duke or Grand Duchess, from which a panel of history professors would choose the most qualified candidate as a replacement. Treating other National Park Service employees with disrespect, any contact with foreigners not previously approved by the Prime Minister, and any financial transaction not approved by the Minister of the Interior were included as grounds for immediate dismissal.
Later that afternoon the Grand Duchess of the Republic of Danubia took her position with her husband and her parents at the entrance of the new power plant. The ceremony was typical of such an event, with traditional dancers and music, as well as several songs performed by the children of the new plant’s employees. When the singing was over, the unclothed Grand Duchess passed out flowers and prayer cards to the multitude of children crowding around her.
No one said anything about the naked Grand Duchess, because doing so would have been an act of disrespect towards the Danubian Church. However, throughout the event the news cameras focused on documenting Anyia’s body and there were plenty of spectators and plant employees who wanted pictures of her. She had to kneel in the traditional position of Penance during parts of the ceremony, placing her shaven vulva on full display. The news cameramen had no reservations about getting close-up shots of the Grand Duchess while she was kneeling. Anyia was well-aware of her exposure, but she was performing Penance and had forfeited her right to any modesty.
That night the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess returned to a house that now was property of the National Park Service and ate dinner at a table that no longer belonged to them. The cooks already were back at work, having signed contracts with the Interior Ministry. The Royal Couple was served by a uniformed National Park Service employee. Eventually several collared criminals would be hired to replace Anyia’s servants, but they, like the cooks, would work directly under the newly-appointed administrator for the grounds. No one would be taking any orders from either the Grand Duke or the Grand Duchess, because their “servants” were public employees and role-playing actors, just as was the Royal Couple.
Anyia was not sure what to say to her husband, now that they were alone. Really…what could she say to him? Eventually they would have to start talking to each other, but what on earth could they say?
He told her to stand up and approach him. She obeyed him and knelt. At that moment the Grand Duke realized that he did have one servant remaining, his wife. She was collared and he wasn’t, which meant that according to protocol she was obligated to kneel whenever she spoke to him. She would indeed follow protocol…he would see to that. She would learn to serve and feel the consequences when she fell short of his expectations.
Without telling her to get up, he went to the main reception hall and retrieved the finely crafted switch that had been hers, right where his father-in-law had thrown it after whipping her legs. He returned to the dining room and touched her on the shoulder. She knelt upright and nervously looked at the implement in her husband’s hand.
The Grand Duke touched Anyia on the cheek, just as she was accustomed to doing with her servants. She took a deep breath as he offered her a hand to help her stand up. He led her to an antique table and told her to place her hands on the top. He gently stroked her backside…her shoulders, her legs, and her bottom…with the implement.
“You’ve never been switched, have you?”
“No. I never have.”
“Your father told me something…on Monday. I had just finished my speech in Parliament and he had me join him for lunch in his office…and he talked about you a bit. He told me there was one time that he threatened to punish you, but he didn’t want to…and ended up just threatening you.”
“Yes, I was upset my parents wouldn’t let me wear my school uniform the way I wanted to. I screamed at them…for days I insulted them and totally freaked out over it. And my father sat me down and told me he’d punish me if I didn’t shut up.”
“He talked about that. He told me that he deeply regretted not punishing you. Your mother wanted him to, but he didn’t want to hurt you.”
Anyia didn’t know what to say. She wondered what would have happened had her father gone ahead with the switching. Maybe she would have hated him all that much more…but she knew that on that day she had learned the wrong lesson from him. She was not grateful at having a father who couldn’t bring himself to punish her for insulting him. Instead she continued to secretly resent the limits that he had placed on her. From that resentment she developed a sense of entitlement, a feeling that was re-enforced by everything that had happened to her since her father became a candidate for Prime Minister. Everyone adored her, and she knew that was only natural because she deserved to be adored.
The Grand Duke interrupted her thoughts by tapping her bottom with the switch.
“I won’t tie you, because to be tied is unfitting for a Grand Duchess. But I do expect you to keep your hands on the table until I am finished.”
Anyia nodded, positioning her backside for the first stroke. The Grand Duke twisted back and stuck her in the middle of her bottom. The stroke was not very severe, but Anyia took a deep breath as the pain mounted. The Grand Duke struck a second time, again with a stroke that stung sharply but was not overly severe.
The Grand Duke wanted to switch his wife for a very long time, so he did not hit her as hard as he could have with any single blow. Instead he struck her repeatedly; on her bottom, her thighs, and her back. None of the strokes was severe enough to make her scream, but her body heaved with sobs as the switch landed on her over and over, with no hint that the punishment would stop anytime soon. There were breaks during which the Grand Duke walked around the table tapping his hand with the implement, but she knew that soon enough the break would end and the punishment would begin again.
As the whipping dragged on, Anyia experienced something very strange. As desperate as she was to have the punishment end, there was a part of her that wanted it to continue. She was in pain, but also she felt increasingly satisfied, and even excited. When the Grand Duke finally did finish, she hugged him as she cried into his chest.
A few moments later the Royal Couple was in the antique bed that no longer belonged to them. She was on her hands and knees, with her husband vigorously thrusting into her as he ran his hands over her welt-covered back. Out of all of the orgasms she had enjoyed, this one was the best.
That same night, Anyia’s fans and admirers watched her performance at the power plant dedication ceremony on television, transfixed by the idea she was performing Public Penance. Because the public did not know the real story behind what had happened the previous week, most of her audience assumed that she was collared because she had regretted her materialistic lifestyle and “the evil worship of cloth”, as the Church put it. That assumption had a very strong impact on thousands of young women who had been following her wardrobe. The Grand Duchess had repented of her materialism, inspiring many others to do the same thing. Over the next week hundreds of young people, mostly women but also some men, reported to Churches and Temples around Danubia to ask for collars and start performing Public Penance. Many of her admirers took oaths to remain collared as long as the Grand Duchess remained collared, not having realized that she was wearing a permanent collar that would never be taken off her neck.
Chapter 25 – The Equinox
Two days after her release from the Royal Residence, Maria Elena returned to her job at the university. There was plenty of work for her because the leaves of all the trees on campus had started to turn and already the grass needed constant raking. Criminal # 101025 knelt in front of the university gardeners and was promptly issued a rake. With no further ceremony she stood up, walked to a section of lawn near the campus administration building, and began gathering fallen leaves. Her supervisor had told her that would be her primary concern for the next month, raking as much as possible during her working hours. Once the leaves from their sections were gathered, Maria Elena and her co-workers had to dump them into specially-built wagons and later move them to an enormous compost pile located next to the university’s agriculture department.
In Danubia it was illegal to burn leaves or any other organic matter. Leaves had to be buried back into the soil or transported to collection sites. At the height of autumn, many criminals, especially ones who had spent the summer working outside, were ordered to help collect and transport leaves and garden debris from public parks and also from the yards and gardens of pensioners and other people who were able to gather up the leaves, but not strong enough to transport them.
To add to the effort, the Danubian Church handed over many of the people performing Public Penance, which that year included Cecilia and Jason. For several weeks the couple joined a group of 20 other university students who were performing Public Penance. They wandered around the neighborhood outside the university with their shovels and wagons, taking away the garden debris of older residents and hauling it to the compost pile. The work was dirty and hard, but because they were collared servants they had to do what they were told.
Cecilia’s transition to performing Public Penance turned out to be psychologically difficult. She knew that she had to be extremely careful to adhere to correct protocol at all times, because everyone was watching her. One very important detail that set her apart from hundreds of other people performing Public Penance was her dark skin. It was obvious she was not Danubian, but she was performing a deeply Danubian ritual. She became the focus of much curiosity and people paid much closer attention to her than they would have paid to any Danubian under the same circumstances.
Cecilia was very much accustomed to being in charge, but her collar took away that perceived authority. In class, for example, she had to get out of her seat and kneel whenever she was called upon to answer a question. She had to assume the correct posture, which meant getting on her knees, extending her hands out in front of her, spreading her legs, and arching her back to completely expose her vulva to anyone standing or sitting behind her. By Wednesday afternoon all of her classmates had seen her in the posture of Penance, which meant that everyone she knew had seen her vagina and anus fully exposed. She had one professor in particular who seemed to delight in her predicament. He called on her continuously and instructed her to come to the front of the class before kneeling and answering so that everyone could see her.
Cecilia knew that she did not have the right to complain, because the entire purpose of Public Penance was to experience humility. Being forced to expose herself changed her personality. Much of her self-confidence had vanished with her clothing. She dropped her bossy abrasive manner of treating people and became more reserved and shy. Jason had told her that eventually her self-confidence would return, but once it did return it would be a different type of confidence and much more profound. During the first few days of wandering around the campus in the nude and exposing herself to everyone she knew; she didn’t see how that would be possible.
As Cecilia had foreseen, Jason took a leading role in her life. She quietly followed him around Danube City, watching him and copying whatever he was doing at the moment. She wouldn’t have wanted to admit it, but whenever she was not in his presence she felt very uneasy, to the point of feeling unprotected and afraid. She needed to be with him as much as possible. She had always felt that need, ever since she met him, but she had managed to keep that need in her subconscious thoughts. With the collar on her neck she no longer could hide behind her authoritative position or her abrasive personality to conceal her underlying fear of being without her fiancé. She would not be able to live without Jason, and for the first time in her life could openly admit that, both to him and to herself.
Up until she began performing Penance, Cecilia only had a vague idea about what her fiancé did with the Church, since he was not one to push his beliefs on her or anyone else. Now that she wore a collar, the Clergy expected her to understand why what she was doing was spiritually significant. It turned out that Jason knew all about Church teachings and was able to explain them. He was well advanced in his theological training, whereas she knew absolutely nothing. He had memorized a large portion of the Texts of the Ancients, knew the parts of the Judeo-Christian Bible that were relevant to the Danubian Church, and could sing Danubian hymns in their original language. She would have to rely on him to catch up and not look like a total fool in front of the Priestess. One of the very first things he had to teach her was correct prayer protocol, since she didn’t even know that.
Even though Cecilia was wearing a Penance collar, officially she was classified as a criminal. Because she was collared, she had a custodian and an owner. Many places in Danube City that previously had been open to her now were off-limits. There were clubs and restaurants that she had been able to go to with her students or with professors that would no longer welcome her. She reluctantly acknowledged that her place in society had changed; that there was no point in thinking she could possibly be the same person or lead the same life she had led before she visited the Temple.
Cecilia’s feelings about the Socrates Club changed along with how she felt about herself. She had been going to the criminals’ hangout throughout the entire time she had been in Danubia, but always as a guest of Jason or Kim. She could not be a member because she was not collared, thus whenever she was there she felt like an intruder. The reason she really went was because the club was the only place in Danube City where it was possible for her to make love with Jason.
On Friday afternoon Cecilia Sanchez filled out a membership card to formally join the Socrates Club. An assistant manager interviewed her to make sure she understood the club’s rules and her own role within Danube City’s criminal society. The Socrates Club, which previously had been a place where she felt like an intruder, had become a place of refuge, a place where she was accepted and where she belonged.
That night Cecilia took her place at the microphone on the stage of the club. In accented Danubian she recited her own life, from her experiences growing up, to her studies in Chicago, to her flight to Danubia, and finally her current transformation. She concluded with:
“I don’t know if I will be performing Penance for the rest of my life or not. Maybe I have a future, or maybe I have nothing ahead of me except the endless present, the reality of the collar on my neck, until my soul separates from my body. I guess that is something the Creator does not want me to think about, so I will try not to think about it.”
She looked at her fiancé, took a breath, and continued:
“Now that I am performing Penance, I know that the only thing people will see about me is my collar. The collar and my nakedness have become my identity to the world. The Creator has forced me to understand that I can’t think of myself as a university program director any more. I have to accept that my job is not who I am; it’s only what I do. I guess…I suppose…after four years of living in Danubia, I still have to figure out who I really am.”
Cecilia left the stage, returned to her table, and cuddled in Jason’s arms.
While Jason and Cecilia were sitting at the table, she couldn’t resist doing what she always liked to do, massage his penis and work him into an erection. Slowly she rubbed his thighs and gently touched his testicles before circling her fingertip around the end of his penis. It did not take much to make him very hard. As usual, they left the table and slipped out of the main dining area of the club through a small door on the back wall. As usual, she led him upstairs with her hand fimly gripping his shaft.
Once they were in the room, their normal sex routine changed. Cecilia was in a relatively quiet mood, so instead of straddling Jason, she got on her elbows and knees on the bed and presented her backside to him. He held off on the temptation to enter her right away to concentrate on touching and massaging her widely spread bottom. He gently touched her vulva and teased her clitoris, making her desperate. She arched her back even more, frantic for him to enter him. He continued rubbing her bottom and teasing her, but made no move to actually push inside. He was desperate himself, but he held back because Cecilia needed to be taught a lesson. She was collared, and thus not in a position to give him orders.
“Oh Jason…Oh please…Ohhhhh.”
He surprised her by saying: “You need to wait. Don’t be so impatient about everything.”
Finally he did decide to push inside her, not because she was desperate, but because he could not hold off any longer. As he thrust and she moaned with pleasure, he silently berated himself for not having more control over his own body. He pushed into her as hard and as deeply as he could, climaxing, but staying inside as long as he could to make sure she had the orgasm she wanted. After they were finished he would have a big surprise for her.
Exhausted, they cuddled for a bit. Cecilia dried off her lover’s penis and began to play with it. She normally would have started telling him what a naughty boy he was and that he needed a good spanking, but that night he did not give her the chance to start up with that. He sat up and moved to the edge of the bed. He grabbed her wrist.
“You need to get over my lap.”
“You’re collared, Cecilia. That means some things in our lives are gonna have to change, and that includes what we do in here. Now, I’m telling you again, you need to get over my lap.”
Reluctantly Cecilia obeyed, moving across Jason’s lap. With his fingertips he pushed her legs apart and made her position herself so that her bottom was tilted upwards and properly presented. He began massaging her bottom-cheeks. When she started to respond, he reached between her legs and gently touched her vulva. She was becoming aroused again. Abruptly he stopped.
“We need to get something straight. As long as you have that collar on, I am the one who’ll decide when you cum. I will decide when I think you deserve to have an orgasm. You need to turn that part of your life over to me. If you really need it, it’s OK to ask, but don’t expect me to always say ‘yes’. Do you understand?”
Shocked by her fiancé’s sudden transformation, Cecilia silently nodded. Jason landed a very sharp slap on her bottom. She squealed.
“Look, how many times have you told me that nodding is rude? You’ve always told me to say ‘yes, Cecilia’ and ‘no, Cecilia’. Now it’s my turn. I expect the same standard of behavior out of you that you expect out of me.”
He landed a second hard slap on her bottom.
“Do you understand?”
“There’s another thing. I’ve given this some thought, and I’ve had to make another decision about things between us. As long as you wear that collar, you can’t spank me. I’m the one who will have to spank. You have to agree to that, because you need to understand that humility is not just for when you’re out on the street. Your collar requires that you exercise humility with me too.”
Cecilia thought for a second, still terrified at what was happening.
“Jason, please…can I sit up so we can talk about this?”
“No, not right now. I’ll tell you when you can sit up.”
“But…you’re collared too. You don’t have no right to tell me…”
“Yes, I’m collared, and I’ve been collared for four years. That means I have four years of training over you. Do you really think you know more than me?”
“I guess not…”
“I guess not also. This is something you’ll have to do. I know that for a fact. You have to do it.”
Still shocked by Jason’s authoritative voice and his certainty that he knew what he was doing, Cecilia said nothing more. She lay quietly, waiting for whatever it was that he was going to do to her.
He could feel her trembling slightly. She was scared, not only of the painful experience she knew she was about to endure, but also because the last remnant of her authoritative façade had been surrendered along with her clothing. They had changed places, because only a week before it had been Jason lying across Cecilia’s lap. She was vulnerable, realizing that her only choice was to obey Jason. Obeying him had never been her intention, and yet, that was what she would have to do.
He massaged her bottom, relishing the feel of her soft, warm, dark skin. Finally he rested his hand on her right bottom-cheek.
“I love you. You’re the only woman I’ll ever love.”
“I’m yours, Jason…I’ll prove it…”
There was nothing more either needed to say. Cecilia would have to feel what it was to be spanked…not spanked erotically, but to be spanked severely, to the point of tears and beyond.
Jason started with moderate slaps, hitting her on alternate bottom cheeks. He was in no hurry, so he let several seconds go by between each slap. He sensuously massaged her bottom between slaps and occasionally touched between her legs to tease her vulva. He was strict about her staying still and quiet. If she moved or tried to put her legs together he gave her a warning pinch on her labia.
Nothing more was said, but Jason paused after he had spanked Cecilia for about 15 minutes. Her bottom stung, but not too badly. In fact it felt hot, and had Jason wanted to, he could have easily aroused his fiancé. However, arousal was not the reason he had Cecilia over his lap. In the interim while he allowed her to rest, she knew that what she had just endured was only a warm-up. Within a few minutes Jason would be slapping her very hard. She was desperate to have the waiting come to an end, but also desperately scared of what was about to happen.
Jason positioned her with his fingertips and massaged her bottom one final time. Then he slapped her with real force. She squealed, but dared not move.
Jason was spanking Cecilia with quick double-slaps, one on each side of her bottom. She knew that he worked out and continued to be an excellent runner, but she did not realize how strong he was until she felt his hand on her bottom: over and over, with no hint that the punishment would end any time soon.
Finally she was able to surrender herself and cry. Through the haze of her pain, she vaguely hoped that her fiancé would stop as soon as tears started falling, but the spanking continued uninterrupted. Once her body was heaving with sobs, Jason slowed down, but struck her with a very hard slap about every 15 seconds.
Cecilia was crying uncontrollably when Jason finally stopped. He placed a reassuring hand on her back and gently rubbed her very sore bottom. Finally he told her to stand up and to lie on the bed. He gently stroked her back while she cried herself to sleep. In a very quiet voice he said something to her, although because she was asleep she couldn’t hear him. He really was saying to himself:
“You’re mine, Cecilia. You’ll prove yourself to me, just like I had to do for you. That is our Path in Life, for both of us.”
He kissed her swollen bottom and lay beside her to go to sleep.
By the third week of September, signs of the impending change of seasons dominated the Danubian landscape. Already the trees were turning color, the nights were becoming longer and colder, school children were settling into their routines, and the countryside was busy with the first part of the harvest. The Fall Equinox was rapidly approaching, which meant the nation was beginning its descent into the darkness and cold of winter. Along with the Fall Equinox would be the most important religious holiday of the Danubian calendar, the Day of the Dead.
Cecilia spent several days teaching Maria Elena about preparing for the ceremonies. The most important part of the preparation was special food. Blood-red fruit punch and blood-red sauce had to be prepared, along with black noodles and potato pastries shaped like skulls. The food was unique for the Equinox, because protocol prohibited any recipes eaten during the Day of the Dead from being eaten at any other time of the year. Also, any prepared dishes eaten during the Day of the Dead could not be purchased for money; therefore each household was responsible for preparing its own food.
Four years before, Victor’s wife and Tiffany had taught Cecilia how to prepare the Day of the Dead dishes; now it was Cecilia’s turn to teach Maria Elena. She invited Carmen and several other students from the exchange program who were performing Penance, so for several days Victor’s kitchen was full of naked women learning first hand about the most Danubian tradition of all.
When Carmen noted that the pots of blood-red juice and sauce looked like something from a horror movie, Cecilia commented:
“This is only the beginning. We’re all gonna be marching this year, and when we do, you’ll really get to have the death experience.”
On the morning before the Equinox, the women packaged up the food they had prepared to take it to the Church that was located on the university campus. They had not prepared the food for themselves, but for the Church to distribute to marchers and worshipers over the next two nights. Because Cecilia, Maria Elena, and Victor all were collared, no adults in the household would remain to have dinner. Pedro would have to spend the holiday with Spokeswoman Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna, who also had to take care of the sons of Vladik Dukov and his wife Tiffany.
The women were joined by the other students from the group of 13 who had taken collars to protest Maria Elena’s trial, along with Victor, Jason, Kim’s sister Cynthia and her husband, and a couple of Jason’s friends from his Church group. The group carried the food over to the university and dropped it off at the Church. There were over 20 people present, so one of the Priests came outside to give them a short service and blessing. From there they boarded a trolley and traveled downtown to the Plaza of the Ancients, where thousands of naked criminals and Church penitents already had gathered.
Maria Elena was rather surprised that the square was very quiet, because she would have expected that such a large crowd would be making more noise. However, the collared subjects understood that they were about to perform a very important service for the Church and the Danubian nation, something that all of them took very seriously. The tradition went back 3,000 years, to the very beginning of Danubia. The weight of those three millennia fell very heavily upon both the marchers and the Clergy members as they prepared for the ceremony.
Clergy members and Temple attendants spread out around the plaza with buckets of white and back body-paint. Other Clergy members pulled tarps off huge piles of wooden torches that had been deposited at foot of the steps of the Temple. Behind the torches were piles of arm-slings and a row of basins full of oil was lined up at the top of the stairs.
There was a religious service on the plaza and an explanation of the significance of the Day of the Dead for those who were marching for the first time. Maria Elena was pleased that her comprehension of Danubian was good enough that she actually understood a lot of what Grand Prophet # 4 was saying. Following the ceremony and several hymns, the Grand Prophet picked up an unlit torch and a sling. He called a naked young woman to step forward and stand next to him. Maria Elena’s heart skipped a beat, because the young woman was Grand Duchess Anyia.
At first fear and hatred rose up in the Colombian, but then she took a closer look at Anyia’s face. She could tell that Anyia had changed, because all of the arrogance, greed, and cruelty that had been part of the Grand Duchess’s expression had vanished. She was a totally different person, quietly and shyly doing what she was told to do. Grand Prophet # 4 told Anyia to kneel in front of him, which she quickly did. She assumed the proper position, with her arms extended in front of her, her forehead touching the ground, her knees spread, and her back arched to properly display her vulva and sphincter. She had knelt facing the Grand Prophet, so her body was lewdly displayed to everyone standing in the Plaza.
The Grand Prophet told Anyia to stand up and face the crowd. He handed her the sling, which she placed over her shoulder. He then handed her the torch, which she put into the sling. The Prophet explained how best to carry the torch to avoid muscle fatigue in the arms or back cramps while Anyia demonstrated. When the Prophet explained how not to carry the torch, Anyia demonstrated the incorrect holds as well. The Prophet explained how to light the torch and how to quickly put it out if necessary, with Anyia continuing her demonstration. Once Anyia’s task was over, she set the torch down and resumed her kneeling position in front of the Grand Prophet.
As she watched Anyia’s performance on the steps of the Temple of the Ancients, Criminal # 101025 realized that she had something to be very grateful for. She was ordinary: an ordinary criminal leading an ordinary life. No one would pay any special attention to her apart from Victor and her university friends. No television cameras would follow her; no commentators would have anything to say about her; no fans would worry about what she was doing and try to imitate her. Her anonymity was something for which she could give thanks to the Saints, or in this country, to the Ancients, as they were called. She would not have exchanged places with Anyia for anything.
Maria Elena understood that there was no point in hating the Grand Duchess, because there was nothing left to hate. Anyia now was nothing more than a possession of the Church, just as Maria Elena was an asset belonging to the Ministry of Justice. Anyia’s life was no longer her own: she had to rise, or kneel, or pose for a demonstration on the orders of the Clergy. In fact, in a way Maria Elena now felt sorry for Anyia, because of her notoriety. She felt that the Church, in its triumph over the Grand Duchess, was parading her in front of the public, making sure the world understood she lost her authority and now was nothing more than living property. Maria Elena realized that, for herself, the fall in her life was not nearly as significant…really, how much worse was it to be a collared criminal than a drug courier? But…for the Duchess…
The Grand Prophet was not finished using the Grand Duchess as a demonstration prop. He ordered her to rise and again to face the crowd. He explained the significance of the body paint that everyone in the march would have to wear. Meanwhile two Priests quickly covered Anyia’s body and face with white paint. One of the Priests highlighted her with black details, which totally transformed her appearance and made her look ghoulish. Over the next hour everyone in the Plaza would undergo the same transformation. Anyia knelt upright facing the Plaza while she waited for her fellow marchers to be painted and to get ready for a night of walking.
While Anyia knelt in silence, the Clergy members organized the Plaza crowd into several lines. The body paint came first, then the torches and the slings, and finally fire for the torches. While the marchers were being painted, Church bells rang across the city to announce the beginning of the first evening of mourning and repentance. After Maria Elena’s friends and Victor were painted, she was frightened by how different they looked. It seemed that there was something more to their transformation than just a crude paint job. She took a deep breath as she felt the cold wet paint cover her body, because she was beginning to feel very apprehensive. The low, sad pitch of the church bells certainly did not help her mood: unlike the higher-pitched ringing of church bells in Latin America, there was nothing cheerful about the sound of Danubian bells.
The sun set; and the bells suddenly stopped. The city fell into complete silence; it was so quiet that Maria Elena could hear the breathing of everyone around her and the hiss of the blood flowing though her own ears. The silence overwhelmed her.
The Grand Prophet handed a torch to Anyia. The Grand Duchess walked along the row of basins to light the oil. She let out an ear-piercing whistle to let everyone know that the march was beginning. The marchers closest to the Temple approached the steps, picked up torches and slings, lit their torches in the oil, and passed through the main Temple. On the other side of the building they separated into two lines, one going north and the other going south.
Maria Elena followed Carmen and the other norteamericanos up the steps, her thoughts still on Anyia. She dipped her torch into the burning oil and then glanced over to see that Anyia was still standing next to the Grand Prophet. Anyia would march, but because she was by herself she would have to trail along behind the Clergy members. Maria Elena felt ever-increasing sympathy for her former nemesis; not only was the Duchess a public spectacle, but she had come to the Temple alone and her only companionship over the next two days would be the Clergy.
Maria Elena’s line of marchers plunged into the darkness of the forest behind the Temple. The night was overcast and pitch-black, so all she could see was the line of torches stretching out ahead of her and the light from her own torch reflected off Carmen’s painted back. At first the foliage from the forest obscured the dots of fire stretching off into the distance and the Columbian could see only a few torches ahead of her. However, eventually the marchers emerged onto the river beach and climbed up onto the main street heading north. The line of lighted dots extended as far as she could see…seemingly into infinity.
Maria Elena became aware that the marchers were not alone. Huddled on either side of the road were crowds of silent Danubia civilians, all wearing black prayer robes. The worshipers had covered their heads and were barely visible in the dim light. More than anything they looked like a sea of lost souls, shrouded ghosts in the Realm of the Dead.
At that point Maria Elena experienced a feeling that nearly everyone in the march experienced; a sensation of leaving the Realm of the Living. The line of burning dots extending into the darkness, the pitch black of the night, and the shrouded figures that did not seem human all gave her the sensation she no longer was alive.
Whether or not she was still alive, Maria Elena realized one thing; she no longer was in Danubia. She was in Pereira, back in Colombia. She had never left Colombia, because she had never broken up with Jose Pablo. They were both at the university, and when they were not in class they were hanging out with their friends. It was a good life they had, one full of promise. Each got along just fine with the other’s family. Drug trafficking was something that she heard about on the news, but not something she had any experience with first hand. And Jose Pablo…not dead, not dead at all. He had never joined the Colombian Army, and was nowhere close to that platoon when it was ambushed. She saw, in vivid detail, what her life would have been like had she done just two things differently the year before.
Maria Elena was still on campus when a young woman came up to her and slapped her hard across the face, knocking her down. She looked up to see herself, the self of the alternate reality, the self who was well-dressed and leading a happy productive life.
“Why did you do this to us? Why? You killed me, you killed the man we both loved, and you killed yourself! Why?”
“I don’t know…”
With that, Pereira faded into darkness.
Maria Elena spent the rest of the night badly shaken by that…dream…or vision…or whatever the hell that experience was. Anyhow, she no longer had to guess how her life would have been had she not wasted it; she now knew for certain.
End of part 5